FILMS

BRIEF ENCOUNTERS

LAWRENCE O’TOOLE July 13 1987
FILMS

BRIEF ENCOUNTERS

LAWRENCE O’TOOLE July 13 1987

BRIEF ENCOUNTERS

FILMS

INNERSPACE

Directed by Joe Dante

The idea behind Innerspace— miniaturizing a man and injecting him into the body of a living organism—appeared two decades ago in Fantastic Voyage, a movie about a shrunken medical team that enters the body of a critically ill scientist to try to save his life. The concept is as tedious now as it was then. In Innerspace it is the body of a hypochondriacal supermarket clerk, Jack Putter (Martin Short), that becomes the object of exploration. Noisy, witless and filled with unimpressive simulations of human tissue, Innerspace is a perfect example of small minds finding a suitable subject.

What attempts to pass for a plot involves scientific espionage. The villains, led by Victor Scrimshaw (Kevin McCarthy) and Dr. Margaret Canker (Fiona Lewis), steal a syringe which contains the microscopic Tuck Pendelton (Dennis Quaid), who is supposed to pilot a tiny craft through a rabbit’s bloodstream. Flustered, the scientists plunge the needle into the ineffectual Jack instead. He then evades the pair with the help of Tuck’s girlfriend, Lydia (Meg Ryan) —and Tuck himself, who communicates from inside Jack’s bloodstream.

As the beleaguered but thrilled Jack, Martin Short pulls more faces than Jerry Lewis. Under the circumstances, his chronic nervousness is

understandable: any actor working with such inane material would be racked with anxiety.

-LAWRENCE O’TOOLE

SPACEBALLS

Directed by Mel Brooks

Mel Brooks will do almost anything for a laugh. In Spaceballs, he launches a satirical attack on the popular movie series Star Wars, with a mixed arsenal of jokes, inspired and dreadful. Brooks (Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein) is a little late in satirizing the Force, Darth Vader,

Yoda and C-3P0—the first of the series appeared a decade ago.

But his irreverent movie still keeps the chuckles coming. The Spaceballs, led by President Skroob (Brooks) and Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis, in an oversized headpiece), have kidnapped Princess Vespa (Daphne Zuniga) of the planet Druidia—dubbed by the heroes as “the Druish princess.” The villains’ ransom: Druidia’s abundant supply of fresh air. Her Lone Starr (Bill Pullman) and his trusty companion, Barf (John Candy), called a “mawg,” or half-man half-dog, come to the rescue.

So much for plot. Viewers are advised to ignore it and instead pay attention to the extras — spacecraft bumper stickers (“We Brake For Nobody” and “I Love Uranus”); the creature known as Pizza the Hutt, a large, festering mass of cheese and pepperoni; Brooks, in a second role, as the wise and humble Yogurt (“I’m just plain Yogurt”). Although it keeps stalling and eventually runs out of intergalactic gas, Spaceballs gets plenty of light-yearage out of its unabashed silliness.

-L. OT.

DRAGNET

Directed by Tom Mankiewicz

A terse monotone announces: “This is the city. Los Angeles—4,000 square miles of constantly interfacing humanity.” It is the voice of the humorless, upstanding Sgt. Joe Friday (Dan Aykroyd), narrator and hero of Dragnet. Aykroyd, wearing a deadpan frown and walking as if he is holding a grape in his navel, is especially funny to anyone remembering the TV series on which this movie is based. Friday is a stickler who goes by the book, reads a magazine called American Moral Companion and falls in love with a kidnap victim he persists in calling “the virgin Connie Swail” (Alexandra Paul). His unlikely police partner, Pep Streebek (Tom Hanks)—who likes to wear the underwear of his policewomen-girlfriends —can only watch Friday’s dull Puritanism in slackjawed horror.

The script, by Aykroyd, Alan Zweibel and director Tom Mankiewicz, has the sophisticated verve of a good revue. When the virgin Connie Swail grows romantic, she cries: “Oh Joe! Look at the stars! Dozens of them!” The busy plot never matches that standard. But it does take keen aim at its targets—including a religious fundamentalist (Christopher Plummer) who rages against a lisping pornography publisher (Dabney Coleman) —and suggests that moral crusaders need sleaze to stay in business. In the end, Dragnet is arresting comedy.

-L. 0’T.