Inspect the Unexpected.
Bumbling cyborg detective Inspector Gadget returns with a vengeance—and a new love interest—in this direct-to-DVD sequel from Disney. French Stewart, best known as the squinty-eyed, perpetually befuddled member of John Lithgow's alien advance team in TV's Third Rock From the Sun, steps into the rocket-scooter shoes and helicopter hat previously donned by Matthew Broderick.
Go, go, Gadget. Please. Just…go.
Facts of the Case
Inspector Gadget (Stewart), arch-crusader against crime for the bustling metropolis of Riverton, faces the inevitable nemesis of all things electronic: he's being replaced with an upgraded model. The new Robocop on the beat, codenamed G2 (Elaine Hendrix, who traversed similar territory as Agent 66 in the mid-'90s remake of Get Smart, opposite Don Adams and Andy Dick), is—unlike the original Gadget—entirely robotic and undeniably feminine.
The two Six-Million-Dollar-Sherlocks team up to thwart a new threat from Gadget's sworn enemy, the villainous Dr. Claw (Australian actor Tony Martin, standing in for Rupert Everett), who's freshly escaped from prison to resume his master plan for world domination (or at least Riverton domination…it's good to start small). As usual, Gadget's brainiac niece Penny (Caitlin Wachs, best remembered as Ally Walker's daughter on Profiler, substitutes for Michelle Trachtenberg), his wisecracking Gadgetmobile (again voiced by one of The Original Kings of Comedy, D.L. Hughley), and his sagaciously-named canine companion Brain pitch in to save the Inspector's bionic bacon and ensure Gadget and his android paramour their triumph over the forces of evil.
I wasn't a connoisseur of the original animated Inspector Gadget, but my wife loved it, so I saw quite a few episodes during its syndicated run. I didn't much care for the first Inspector Gadget film, either, finding it awkwardly conceived, wretchedly cast (Goggle-eyed and boyish Matthew Broderick as Gadget? Effete Rupert Everett as Claw? Who greenlighted those choices?), badly written, and agonizingly unfunny. Its only saving grace was its brevity—78 minutes that crawled by like the Hundred Years' War. In its defense, Inspector Gadget 2 captures more of the cartoon's essential flavor and offers more sensible casting selections than its predecessor. But it's also ten excruciating minutes longer, and suffers from a script that's every inch as inept. IG2 may be even less funny than IG, if that's possible.
Or, to put it another way, Inspector Gadget 2 was directed and co-written by Alex Zamm, a man whose last theatrical feature starred Carrot Top. Enough said.
French Stewart's approach to the Gadget character comes closer than Broderick's to the Inspector Clouseau-slash-Maxwell Smart sensibility of the cartoon. But Stewart is a comic actor who relies on the guidance of an effective script (see the first season of Third Rock From the Sun)—with weaker material to work from, he's flat, bland, and borderline annoying (see every other season of Third Rock). He tries awfully hard here—sometimes too hard—to milk laughs from the miserable screenplay concocted by Zamm and co-conspirators William Robertson and Ron Anderson. But even Peter Sellers himself couldn't wring lifeblood from a comedic turnip (as anyone who's endured The Prisoner of Zenda or The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu can attest), and French Stewart is no Peter Sellers.
The rest of the cast doesn't fare any better. Elaine Hendrix and Caitlin Wachs may be decent actresses. They may not. Either way, it's impossible to tell from their work here. D.L. Hughley, a gifted comedian, is wasted as the voice of Gadget's Eddie Murphyesque talking car—does every cartoon protagonist require a slang-slinging sidekick these days? None of the predominantly Australian supporting cast (Inspector Gadget 2 was filmed in Brisbane for economic reasons) appear to be having much fun, including the usually enjoyable Bruce Spence (the scuzzy gyro pilot in the Mad Max sequels, and the creepiest of the black-clad aliens in Dark City) in a throwaway role as Gadget's crackpot inventor.
Director Zamm appears to believe that with enough flash and dash hurled at the audience, no one will notice he and two buddies whipped out the screenplay on a Sunday afternoon over a football doubleheader and a case of Fosters. Cheesy computer-generated effects abound—some of which are actually rather good given the spartan budget, and all of which are in keeping with the film's kinetic style and theme. In between the spectacles, however, there's a zeppelin-load of dead air. I realize the target audience for this DVD is youngsters, but the kid hasn't been conceived who would laugh at these stale jokes, or who would comprehend the numerous inside gags that adults might understand, but wouldn't find funny.
As though the dialogue wasn't sufficiently headache-inducing, art director Phil Shearer's production design relies on the most garish color palette of any movie since Dick Tracy. The Gadgetmobile, for example, was a white 1964 Lincoln Continental convertible in the first film. Here, it's still a Continental, but now it's various shades of purple with a checkerboard motif. It looks like something the Green Hornet would have driven, had the Green Hornet been a pimp, or had been portrayed by Prince. With the exception of the drab, trenchcoated Gadget, all the characters dress as though they've just stepped out of a black-light poster. The original cartoon looks almost monochromatic by comparison. Cinematographer Geoffrey Wharton (Red Planet) responds to this kaleidoscopic nightmare by cranking the color balance to ludicrous levels. Too bad the instruction to "turn up the brightness" didn't extend to the screenplay.
Overall, Inspector Gadget 2 reminds me of one of those schlocky live-action Saturday morning kids' shows from the 1970s—the kind Sid and Marty Krofft (Land of the Lost, Far Out Space Nuts, Electra-Woman and Dynagirl) and Filmation (Shazam!, Space Academy) used to churn out with alarming regularity. IG2 benefits from better production values, but schlock is schlock.
Someone at Disney must have hitched his or her career wagon to Inspector Gadget's star, because IG2 gets royal treatment from the House of Mouse on this DVD release. Did someone really think a made-for-video kiddie sequel called for THX certification? Whatever the reason, the DVD far outshines the film it presents, in every aspect imaginable. The anamorphic transfer is vivid and reasonably crisp, though the overamped fluorescent hues result in bleed and fuzziness throughout the film. (The transfer is framed in a "family-friendly" 1.66:1 aspect ratio, according to the cover art—are 1.85:1 and 2.35:1 the root cause of broken homes?) The soundtrack is suitably rangy, especially at the bottom end, and provides as much bump and breadth as the little tykes will ever notice.
The selection of supplements earns mad props, though I'm baffled who Disney expects to plow through all this stuff—besides your friendly neighborhood DVD Verdict Judge, of course. Kids—assuming there are any who actually enjoy the movie—won't care about the bulk of these items, and no adult with two temporal lobes to rub together will sit through the main course, much less the extras. But, boy howdy, there's a heap o' extras here.
Start with two—count 'em, two—audio commentaries, one featuring director Zamm and stars Stewart and Hendrix, another with Zamm hogging the mic solo. Both of these tracks are lively, listenable, and entertaining, though one or the other would have been sufficient. (For some bizarre reason, the commentaries can only be activated within the "Bonus Materials" menu, not from the list of "Audio Set-Up" options. Equally bizarre is the proffered option of watching the feature with a music-only soundtrack. Although, come to think of it, deleting all the dialogue may in fact nominally improve the viewing experience.)
Zamm also contributes audio voiceovers for a package of 12 deleted scenes, which can be accessed individually or played seamlessly in a ten-minute sequence, with or without the yak-track. Most of these excerpts are as good as anything in the finished film (to condemn with faint praise), but Zamm's remarks get repetitious after a while. Better are the three minutes' worth of outtakes, which remain blessedly commentary-free—though you're welcome to generate your own. (I did.)
The making-of featurette Behind the Scenes: The Gadgets Behind the Gadgets runs slightly over 30 minutes. As with the deleted scenes, the viewer can choose among 13 individual segments, or play the entire featurette in a continuous presentation. Most of the bits focus on the various stunts and technical effects sequences, with interview clips from the actors and production team. Frankly, all of the parts of the movie that are at all worth seeing are highlighted here, so the curious could save an hour of tedium by simply sticking to the documentary.
A feature titled The Illustrated Gadget is a split-screen animated gallery that explains some of the whiz-bang gizmos with which Inspector Gadget and his distaff counterpart G2 come equipped. Actor Bruce Spence does the voiceover in character as Baxter the mad scientist. This and an interactive set-top game, Gadget Training Simulator, are geared to the young and the maturity-challenged.
For the tone-deaf, there's a noxious video of a redundant bubblegum pop ditty called Up, Up, Up, showcasing the vocal talents (?) of the dubiously-monikered Rose Falcon—imagine if Mayim Bialik from Blossom had never grown up, but had instead launched a second career as a bad Britney Spears imitator…but I repeat myself. (To present a balanced assessment, my teenaged daughter says Ms. Falcon and her song are "okay," and better than Carmen Rasmusen on American Idol.)
To top off an already brim-full package, the Disney folks throw in one of their now-familiar storyboard-to-film comparison sequences, a THX audio/video optimizing program, DVD credits, and a couple of easy-to-discover, not-worth-the-effort Easter eggs located in the main menu. And, of course, eight trailers and previews for other entertainments from Mickey and Company, six of which will smack you over the head before you even get to the menu selections if you fail to opt out.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I recognize that, at a juvenile level, Inspector Gadget is supposed to be a spoof on James Bond and his cadre of clones and rip-offs. That's no excuse, however, for the sledgehammer-subtle Bondesque product placements for McDonalds, among others, shoehorned throughout this movie. What is cute, even clever, in a film targeted at adults is shameless pandering in content directed to children. But then, it's a cash world after all.
Inspector Gadget 2 makes one appreciate all the more the joyful inventiveness of Robert Rodriguez's Spy Kids films—especially the first, which Rodriguez scraped together on a budget probably quite similar to that Disney allotted for IG2. Spy Kids boasts a reliance on inexpensive CGI and practical effects like those on display in IG2, but does infinitely better with the same resources. Why? Spy Kids's script doesn't assume brain damage on the part of the audience, and its director is more interested in telling a coherent story than simply throwing loud visuals at the screen.
If the kidlets crave high-tech derring-do, pick up the two Spy Kids flicks and pass on Inspector Gadget 2. Otherwise, Disney might well be encouraged to foist another Gadget sequel on the world's unsuspecting youth.
You wouldn't want to be responsible for that, now would you?
Inspector Gadget and his cybernetic cohorts are found guilty of boring the Judge to tears, and are hereby sentenced to being dismantled and remade into little Pixar lamps. The DVD production team at Disney is free to go, for delivering extra content above and beyond the call of duty. Court stands in recess.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary Featuring Actors French Stewart and Elaine Hendrix with Director Alex Zamm
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