Inspector Gadget (1999)

Film review: Inspector Gadget (1999), directed by David Kellogg

I remember when we were growing up, watching the cartoon Inspector Gadget on Saturday mornings, and I seem to remember really enjoying it. The ditzy inspector, the smart Penny and the brainy dog, Brain … and them always trying to fight the evil Claw and his evil M.A.D. agents. So the other night, I came across the live action movie from 1999, and thought I’d give it a go.

Oh gods, oh gods, WHY did I make that decision?!

Okay, the one thing I liked about the movie was that it explained the origins of the inspector and all his gadgetry, because I was not previously aware of how he came to be, just that he was this guy in a trenchcoat with lots of tech on him yet was still human, somehow. But that’s about it.

We meet John Brown (Matthew Broderick), a security guard at a robotics lab who wants to be a police officer. The beautiful Dr. Brenda Bradford (Joely Fisher) works at the same lab together with her father. The Bradleys are working on controlling artificial limbs with the power of thought, and when the lab is broken into, Brenda’s father gets killed and the foot is stolen by billionaire Sanford Scolex (Rupert Everett) and minion Sikes (Mike Hagerty).

The noble John Brown goes chasing after the baddies and in the process, manages to crush Scolex’s hand and … most of himself. In an effort to save his life, Brenda turns him into a half-robot, because the “Gadget Project” she has been working on needed a guinea pig, and here’s a man who just wants to do good.

Inspector Gadget is born, a new breed of super cop.

Except he keeps being stuck on rescuing kittehs from trees duty, and he’s not happy that Chief Quimby (Dabney Coleman, a man I recognise from a number of things apparently) won’t take him seriously. Then again, if you’re a half-robot who hasn’t read his own instruction manual and is trying to come to terms with how to move without shooting toothpaste and fire and stuff … well … you can sort of understand the police chief’s point.

The baddie keeps doing dastardly deeds, even building an evil Gadget twin, wreaking havoc on the city. Meanwhile, the cartoon’s brain, the spunky kid Penny (Michelle Trachtenberg) is … well … nowhere, really? She’s in the Gadget Mobile with Brain and doesn’t do a lot, except for counselling Sikes the minion.

It really isn’t a very good film. IMDb rating is currently 3.7/10, and yes, I agree, except I gave it 3/10. It’s not a funny film, it’s not clever, and it doesn’t even feel remotely believable. Magical kingdoms at the back of a wardrobe or alien robots who transform into cars aren’t believable either, but the point is they still feel as if they could possibly exist, even though we know they are completely make believe. This thing … no.

It’s too silly, even if it’s a kids movie. You don’t need to dumb it down just because it’s meant for kids, but it feels as if this is exactly what is going on. But with some extremely weird adult overtones (balls, squirting, there were more but those are the ones I can recall) that just … why? Inspector Gadget was a fun cartoon but this is a garbled, noisy mess with an unconvincing love story wedged in. Even if Broderick is really cute, it’s nice to see Trachtenberg outside the Buffyverse (she played Buffy’s younger sister Dawn) and I envy Fisher’s hair, this is not a movie worth seeing.

And they still made a straight-to-video sequel … with none of the stars from this movie. Gee, I wonder why. I’m torn between 1 and 2. Maybe 1.5. Yeah, it’ll do. 1.5 gadgets out of 5.

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