John Brown ….. Matthew Broderick
Sanford Scolex ….. Rupert Everett
Brenda/RoboBrenda ….. Joely Fisher
Penny ….. Michelle Trachtenberg
Kramer ….. Andy Dick
Mayor Wilson ….. Cheri Oteri
Sikes ….. Michael G. Hagerty
Chief Quimby ….. Dabney Coleman
Gadgetmobile Voice ….. D.L. Hughley
Artemus Bradford ….. Rene Auberjonois
Thelma ….. Frances Bay
Voice of Brain ….. Don Adams
A new standard for wretched excess is established by “Inspector Gadget,” a joyless and charmless disaster in which state-of-the-art special effects are squandered on pain-in-the-backside folly. Loosely based on the 1980s TV cartoon series about a bumbling bionic crime-fighter, this live-action misadventure isn’t likely to spark renewed interest in its source material. Nor is it likely to improve Disney’s B.O. batting average after its recent run of non-animated underachievers. Pic is written, acted and directed in a style broad enough to indicate that the presumptive target audience consists of young moppets with extremely short attention spans. But many preschoolers may be upset, if not frightened, by the shrill sound and fury.
Like many other live-action pics drawn from videogames and TV cartoons, this misfire grossly overestimates the novelty value of turning human beings into special effects. And perhaps more than any other would-be summer blockbuster in recent memory, “Inspector Gadget” proves that if you don’t have engaging characters or an entertaining story, you run the risk of eliciting a collective sigh of “So what?”
Matthew Broderick stars as John Brown, an idealistic security guard who longs to join the police force of Riverton City. While working at a technological research facility, he springs into action when intruders kill scientist Artemus Bradford (Rene Auberjonois) and flee with their victim’s latest invention. Brown pursues the culprits — evil billionaire Sanford Scolex (Rupert Everett) and his flunky (Michael G. Hagerty) — who counterattack by tossing an explosive into Brown’s car. Scolex loses a hand in the resulting conflagration. But that’s nothing compared with what happens to the security guard.
Indeed, there isn’t much left of our hero when he’s wheeled into the hospital. So Brenda Bradford (Joely Fisher), Artemus’ daughter, resorts to drastic measures. Applying the experimental technology designed by her father, she implants several thousand handy-dandy devices in the dying security guard, giving him a new lease on life as a gizmo-enhanced cyborg and renaming him Inspector Gadget — an entirely appropriate moniker for a guy who can extend his hydraulic arms across rooms, sprout Rollerblades from his feet and detach his ear to use as a long-distance surveillance device.
Gadget is assigned to the Riverton City police department, whose cynical chief (Dabney Coleman) is unimpressed by the prospect of employing “Columbo and Nintendo all rolled into one.” Even so, Gadget resolves to find the killers of Brenda’s father. And his determination grows all the more intense when — now here’s a novel plot twist! — he falls in love with the lovely scientist.
Meanwhile, Scolex — who gleefully nicknames himself Claw after replacing his severed hand with steel pincers — schemes to exploit the late Artemus’ innovations. As a kind of warm-up exercise he designs a robotic copy of Brenda. But he really hits his stride when he constructs an evil doppelganger of Inspector Gadget — RoboGadget (also played by Broderick). In one of the pic’s few genuinely clever scenes, RoboGadget stalks through Riverton City on massively extended legs, terrorizing citizens and wreaking havoc with all the ferocity of a certain giant lizard who recently co-starred with Broderick.
Here and elsewhere, it’s obvious that the production team invested a prodigious amount of time, money and effort in replicating the fantastical sci-fi elements of the “Inspector Gadget” cartoons. Tech values are lavish across the board, and the pic is full of such spectacular thingamajigs as the Gadgetmobile (voiced by D.L. Hughley), a sentient high-speed vehicle that looks like something left over from “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.” But none of this is likely to overwhelm audiences in an age when even the most wondrous computer-generated imagery is taken for granted.
Under the frantic direction of first-time feature helmer David Kellogg, the film careens from scene to scene like a Ritalin-deprived problem child. The acrid stench of desperation permeates the enterprise, as actors struggle to convince the audience — and, quite possibly, themselves — that louder and broader somehow equals funnier. Broderick makes a game effort but overdoes the gee-whiz ingenuousness. Everett is disappointingly pedestrian as the villain of the piece, but at least he evinces restraint as he goes through the motions. Other members of the cast pop their eyes, flutter their hands and make silly faces, all in the vain hope of wringing laughs from Kerry Ehrin and Zak Penn’s pathetically unfunny script.
Even with an interminable closing-credits crawl, “Inspector Gadget” clocks in at 77 minutes, making it one of this decade’s shortest major studio releases. Unfortunately, some pictures can never really be short enough.