Jack Putter to the rescue!
There's lots of names that get thrown around when you talk about cinematic heroes in the '80s. Some people will cite the beefcake fighters like Jean Claude Van Damme. Others will cite Harrison Ford's adventure-thriving Indiana Jones. There's also Superman, Maverick, John McClane, Axel Foley, Rocky... You name it. But they all pale in comparison to one man. He wasn't so wimpy that he needed sweat-covered muscles, fighting moves, or big guns. All he needed was a little, itty bitty man inside him, and a good, healthy dose of the crazy. The man was Jack Putter.
Yes, Martin Short. Some might say that SCTV is his best work, but there's something about his portrayal of Jack Putter in Innerspace that is just beyond irresistible. While many comedic actors can pull off slapstick, it usually has that air of forced goofiness. But not for Short. He can shriek, flail, and fall over and make it seem perfectly natural to his character. There is no one else that could have pulled Putter off -- making both the over-the-top hypochondria and physical ordeal seem natural. It also helps that he's not falling to the slapstick weight of poor decisions that make many comedies today uncomfortable. Putter is a purely enjoyable and laugh-inducing character.
But on to the story. Innerspace is about a science experiment gone wrong. Dennis Quaid stars as Tuck Pendleton, a talented, over-drinking pilot who signs on for a new experiment -- miniaturizing a small pod vessel, injecting it into a rabbit, and performing a series of tests. Unfortunately, just as Tuck gets sucked into a test tube, the lab is raided. One of the scientists escapes, and survives just long enough to inject him into the arse of Jack Putter. Of course, this would seem like the worst possible recipient, considering Putter's paranoia and the fact that he's the antithesis of Tuck.
From there, Pendleton gains visual and aural contact with Putter, leading Jack into his worst nightmare -- having the grocery scanner mis-read codes and pull up a $100,000+ total. Once Tuck starts talking to him, Putter thinks he's possessed. After a lot of coaxing, Jack's on-board and ready to help save the pilot from a tiny death in his own body. Cinematically convenient, they duo are able to zero in on the bad guys with Tuck's ex-girlfriend Lydia (Meg Ryan) -- a reporter who just so happens to be monitoring the Cowboy, the man preparing to buy the miniaturizing chips that the bad guys are after.
It's entirely unrealistic, but it's not supposed to be anything else. The film is a comedic, present-day fantasy -- one whose success rests mainly on the shoulders of Short. Matching over-the-top scenarios with understandable, human, albeit spastic reaction, director Joe Dante pulled off an enjoyable, heart-warming, and funny story that works in spite of it's foibles. You partially laugh because Putter's reactions are goofy, but there's also that twinge of reality. Short's face while getting injected, or his reaction to Tuck shooting something into his eye, are not only pure slapstick. They are also realistic. In a similar situation, we wouldn't calmly sit down for a chat, we'd be freaking out just like Jack is.
Innerspace also serves a little bit of everything beyond Putter's laughs. There's the youthful Ryan and briefly-bare back side of Quaid for the eye-candy, the romance between Tuck and Lydia to serve up a nice helping of sappy connection, the bad guys and action, crazy dancing, and even some great camera work. Since the project didn't rely on computer-generated effects, it has aged extremely well over the last twenty years since it came out -- making its Oscar win all the more worthy. On the DVD's commentary, you can hear about how they went about shooting many of the scenes, which you'd assume were just seamless CG, but are actually just carefully-recorded shots.
Innerspace often gets swept aside in discussions of action films and comedy, but that's an unfortunate oversight. The film has life -- laughs that last well beyond the first viewing, Short in his prime, Ryan before she tried to stop the aging process, Quaid kicking butt in a little tiny pod, and many other gems to back it up. It is, by no means, flawless cinematic storytelling, but it knows how to balance over-the-top bits with real, enjoyable moments making nothing stick out as much as how good you feel when you watch it.