tek's rating: ½

Inspector Gadget (PG)
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This 1999 live-action film is based on the 1980s cartoon series of the same name. Um... it's entirely possible I saw it in a theater, but I really don't remember. If I didn't, then I certainly saw it on either VHS or TV not long afterwards. Whichever way I first saw it, I reckon I didn't see it again until 2018, when I watched it on DVD. I must say, it's not a particularly good film; certain it's not as good as the cartoon. But it's really not bad, either. When I started watching the DVD (not particularly remembering any specifics about it from before), I kind of worried it would be bad. It starts with a security guard named John Brown (Matthew Broderick) having a dream in which he performs heroic acts. But he soon wakes up, and we learn that while he has recently applied to become a cop, he has been rejected. But he is the guardian of his niece, Penny (Michelle Trachtenberg), who loves and believes in him, because he has a good heart. Which is fine... but um, I just gotta say, he seemed a little too nice. A little too self-deprecating. Like, if you've ever seen a story where a person gets split into their good side and their evil side, and the good side seems too "wishy-washy", or like a caricature of a "good person"... that's what he seemed like. (Mind you, I rather pride myself on my own self-deprecation, so it's saying a lot if I feel like a character is too far on that side.)

We then see a scene of a couple of scientists, Dr. Brenda Bradford (Joely Fisher) and her father, Artemus (Rene Auberjonois), working on a robotic foot. (Or I should say an androidic foot, except that's not really a word.) And we learn that John's work as a security guard is at the place where the Bradfords work. And he has a major crush on Brenda. Anyway... a billionaire named Sanford Scolex (Rupert Everett) sends his minion, Sykes, to steal the foot. And in the process of the theft, Artemus is killed. John gives chase, but he ends up getting blown up. However... the chase also leads to Scolex's hand being crushed. It's later replaced with a mechanical claw, created by a scientist who works for him named Kramer (Andy Dick), who also created alternate artificial hands (which Scolex never actually uses), as well as creating an android. So, Scolex decides to start calling himself "Claw." (Unlike the cartoon, he's never actually called Doctor Claw. And in fact we hardly ever hear the name "Claw" used in the movie. But at least he has a pet cat, like Dr. Claw did in the cartoon.) And incidentally... I don't fully understand what the point was of even stealing the foot, if Kramer was already capable of making realistic android hands. Maybe he wouldn't have been able to make the rest of the android look human (instead of robotic) without extrapolating from the foot, I don't know. It's never really made clear. Although later in the film, we learn that Scolex has hacked into Brenda's computer files to learn to make a computer chip that drives all the robotic components. But I still find it weird that the bad guys could make basically instantaneous progress based on the Bradfords' R&D, when Brenda and her father were themselves just barely getting the foot to work. But let's not overthink things.

Anyway... like I said, John was blown up. He nearly died, but after the medical doctors had done all they could, Brenda used him to create the prototype for the "Gadget" project she and her late father had been working on. That is to say, she basically turned him into a cyborg, with all kinds of gadgets built into his body. This project was used as a PR opportunity by Mayor Wilson (Cheri Oteri). But police chief Quimby (Dabney Coleman) was not at all happy about it, since he was forced to accept John, aka "Inspector Gadget," into his police force. John himself wasn't happy at first, to find that he had been turned into this... thing. But he did enjoy the opportunity to join the police, and to spend more time with Brenda, learning to use all the gadgets she'd put into him. She also makes a "Gadgetmobile" for him (voiced by D.L. Hughley), which has a bunch of gadgets of its own... not to mention its own personality. John wants to be assigned to the case of Artemus's murder, but Quimby has him doing very fluffy sort of police work, like rescuing kittens from trees. Meanwhile, Scolex sends an android who looks like Gadget out to do all kinds of terrible things, and ruin Gadget's reputation.

Of course, John ultimately does manage to thwart Scolex's plans and win Brenda's heart. And really, after the first scene where he seemed totally lame, he does get slightly better. (He's never quite as bumbling as the cartoon version of Inspector Gadget, even if he never has quite the same level of self-confidence as the cartoon version.) So... I dunno, it didn't take too long for me to stop finding him vaguely annoying, and start finding him vaguely likable. But I'm still a bit disappointed that Penny never had anywhere near as important a role as she did in the cartoon. Let alone her dog, Brain. But there really were a lot of little things in the movie that I found rather amusing. And the movie occasionally broke the fourth wall, which is something I always enjoy. All in all, it was a fun movie, IMO. And there are some fun little mini-scenes during the closing credits. (One of them has a voice cameo I particularly liked.)

Followed by Inspector Gadget 2


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