Inspector Gadget

Directed by David Kellogg
Starring: Matthew Broderick, Rupert Everett, Joely Fisher, Michelle Trachtenberg, Dabney Coleman, Andy Dick.
MPAA Rating: PG for whacky [sic] violence/action, language and innuendo.

Review by Matt Heffernan
July 24, 1999

What do you get when you combine RoboCop with Superman III, and throw in a dash of "The Six Million Dollar Man" for credibility? Well, let's just say that it's less than the sum of its parts.

Inspector Gadget is Disney's latest live-action feature for the under 10 bracket. Unlike Tarzan, which is truly wonderful and appealing to all ages, this film is aimed exclusively at the kids. This audience, however, is unlikely to remember the cartoon show and action figure line this was based on. The show was very popular when I was a kid, and remains a favorite. A lot had to do with the voice of Don Adams for the title role. Combining the Maxwell Smart persona with a wacky cyborg made for some great Saturday morning entertainment.

All of the charm, sadly, is lost here. Matthew Broderick plays John Brown, a security guard at some research facility. He has a crush on a young scientist there named Brenda (Joely Fisher). Brenda's father (René Auberjonois) runs the place, and they are working on "brain wave" controlled cybernetics. Wealthy businessman Sanford Scolex (Rupert Everett) breaks into the facility and steals their equipment, killing the elder scientist. John takes after them in his hatchback, but in the ensuing entanglement, Scolex loses his hand, and John has severe injuries all over his body. Scolex gets away before John is taken to the hospital.

Brenda decides to complete her father's "Gadget Project", using John as a prototype. So far, it is basically RoboCop for kids. Back at Scolex's office, his chief scientist (Andy Dick) makes a prosthetic claw for him. Scolex then dubs himself "Claw". They also try to get the equipment they stole working, but they failed to get the "Gadget Card" that makes it work. Luckily, Brenda saved it, and installs it on John, who now gets to fulfill his dream of being a police officer. Of course, he needs to have the easily removable card inserted, or he won't work (no prizes for guessing that he gets it taken away).

Scolex, who knew Brenda from Harvard, offers her a job at his facility. Of course, he steals her plans to build his own "evil" Inspector Gadget. Hello, Superman III! The real Gadget must defeat Claw with the help of his niece, Penny (Michelle Trachtenberg), and his talking car, the Gadgetmobile (voiced KITT-style by D. L. Hughley).

This film employs a lot of computer graphics and actual robotics to make the Inspector and his car have all sorts of bells and whistles. Unfortunately, the whole cast doesn't really seem to care about the film they are in. Things happen, time passes, but nobody seems to care.

I felt especially sorry for Everett, who must have hated this project after making An Ideal Husband. He puts basically nothing into his role, but it was so poorly written that he had no place to take it. I don't even want to go into how his face is always shown, unlike the cartoon Claw, who was only seen from behind. Hopefully he made enough money from Disney to be able to do more independent films.

If you have very young children, they might like it. Just be prepared for a grating ordeal. Try bringing some headphones so you can close your eyes and listen to some nice, soothing music. That way, everybody wins.

Update, 3/4/2002: I just learned that the director of this horrible film has one other feature to his "credit": the 1991 Vanilla Ice vehicle Cool as Ice -- one of the biggest disasters in Hollywood history. It remains a mystery why this man was allowed to direct again, and how I managed to miss this connection in the first place.

For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Inspector Gadget (1999)

Here's some merchandise for sale at
Inspector Gadget (1999) -- VHS
Inspector Gadget (1999) -- DVD
Inspector Gadget, a screenplay novelization by Scott Sorrentino -- Paperback
Disney's Inspector Gadget : A Flip Book -- Paperback Home
Review Archive
Video Pick of the Week
Guide to Star Ratings

Review © 1999 Matt Heffernan