Rated PG - Running Time: 1:15 - Released 7/23/99

All the way home from Disney's Inspector Gadget, my kids couldn't stop talking about how cool it would be to have a helicopter hat or a pair of springy legs. And by golly, wouldn't it? That's what the producers of this TV cartoon turned feature movie are banking on: the 4-year-old mentality. With a team of four writers headed by Dana Olsen and Kerry Ehrin, director David Kellogg crafted a piece aimed squarely at the pre-school market. For me, it left a little to be desired.

Inspector Gadget starts out as mild-mannered security guard John Brown (Matthew Broderick), but after being blown up by the evil Claw (Rupert Everett), he is transformed into a comic version of Robocop with dozens of clever devices packed into his computerized body and clothing. This technology is the brainchild of Dr. Brenda Bradford (Joely Fisher, Ellen). The aforementioned explosion happens during Claw's burglary of Bradford Robotics Laboratory, which also kills Brenda's father. Since Brown has a soft spot for Brenda, he vows to find the men who offed the senior scientist.

Claw, with the help of his hesitant minions Kramer (Andy Dick) and Sikes (Michael G. Hagerty), uses technology stolen from Bradford Lab to create his own Inspector Gadget — the evil twin, if you will — who resembles the original exactly except that he borrowed Jim Carrey's mouthpiece from The Mask. So the good Gadget must battle the bad Gadget while Claw plans to dominate the world with armies of similar robot-men.

Included because they were in the TV show (and not because they have any real bearing on the film) are Gadget's clever niece Penny (Michelle Trachtenberg), his unsupportive police chief Quimby (an underused Dabney Coleman), and his dog. And then, of course, there's the car. The gadget-mobile, voiced by Fred Williamson, is so much like My Favorite Martian's Zoot the suit, one cannot help but make the comparison. While Gadget is floundering around learning to use his hardware, the crime is practically solved by the car, the girl, and the dog.

The appeal of this movie is in the gadgets (as evidenced by my 4-year-old's reaction); the script again takes a back seat to special effects. Broderick brings his now-familiar brand of affable confusion to the role, but he can't help the fact that this is just another hum-drum Disney formula story like we've seen so many times before. As with last year's Godzilla, Broderick is a good actor stuck in a mediocre, effects-driven production. Backing performances by Everett and Dick are mildly enjoyable, but their screen time is severely limited.

I was never a huge fan of the Inspector Gadget cartoon, but you'd think with the kind of dough Disney has, they could afford to make it a little more interesting. It would be cool to have a helicopter hat, though. ***

Copyright 1999 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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