Disney has made a habit lately of leading funny TV shows to the slaughter by turning them into repugnant feature films (witness "Mr. Magoo" and "My Favorite Martian"). But "Inspector Gadget" looked like it might break the curse.
Ready-made for silly special effects and starring an already cartoony Matthew Broderick in the title role, this translation of the Saturday morning cartoon about a slapstick cyborg detective with a helicopter hat and spring-loaded legs was brimming with good ideas -- not the least of which was casting the dashing but daffy Rupert Everett ("My Best Friend's Wedding," "My Best Friend's Wedding") as Gadget's high-tech, hook-handed nemesis, Claw.
But while the spirit of the 'toon survived the trip to the multiplex, the script succumbs early to the worst kind of post-modern kiddie flick formula. Disappointingly dependent on retread gimmicks, the bare-bones plot rips through the 90 minute running time at breakneck speed, pausing only long enough for Gadget's obnoxious, hip-hop-tongued talking car (voice of D.L. Hughley) to rap occasionally.
As the movie opens, Broderick is a bottom-rung security guard at a robotics lab who daydreams of law enforcement heroics. But when he's blown up by the villain in an attempt at industrial espionage, the facility's giddy, girly chief scientist (Joely Fisher from "Ellen") performs life-saving surgery, turning him into a Swiss army knife version of the Six-Million Dollar Man.
As Broderick adjusts used to his new, contraption-crammed frame, he's given special status in the police department and sets about defeating Claw, who has built an evil Broderick replica called RoboGadget that stomps around committing property damage crimes for no discernible reason.
Fun in spurts, for four or five seconds at a time, "Inspector Gadget" isn't a complete disaster. In fact once in a while its downright clever, like when director David Kellogg jumps the audience inside Gadget's (and others) daydreams by super-imposing cartoon thought bubbles above the characters' heads. He also has given the Foley (sound effects) guys carte blanche, leading to a delightful and endless array of honks, zips, boings, pops and whistles.
But the story advancement is as messy as a 4-year-old with fingerpaints. Story elements and entire scenes bunch up on each other like a cartoon car crash, and a wonderful cast is completely wasted.
Without clear direction, Broderick is actually more engaging as RoboGadget then he is as our hero. Everett gets one good line, when he chooses the moniker "Claw" -- "Just Claw. One word. Like Madonna!" -- before being regulated to the status of a vein-popping maniac with sadly trite dialogue.
Just as sad, a broad base of supporting players is practically thrown away, including Andy Dick ("Newsradio") as Claw's reluctant mad scientist lackey, Dabney Coleman as the cud-chewing police chief who wants Gadget off the force, and the wildly talented, 13-year-old Michelle Trachtenberg ("Harriet the Spy") as Gadget's niece Penny -- a central character of the cartoon who (along with talking dog Brain) is virtually ignored here.
In the place of funny, engaging characters and a plot a kid (or an overgrown kid) could sink teeth into, "Inspector Gadget" trifles with one of these ubiquitous kids' movie lessons. Gadget needs a special microchip to keep on ticking, but when it's destroyed, he learns his heart (metaphorically speaking) is what gives him life.
I've been a fan of the "Inspector Gadget" TV 'toon (voiced by "Get Smart's" Don Adams) for years and I thought Disney and Broderick would be a good match. I hate being wrong.