Martin Short is an acquired taste. He plays an obnoxious guy really well. Think Father of the Bride, Three Amigos, and Captain Ron. So I can’t really fault anyone for not enjoying his schtick. Personally, I find him endearing. My younger brother, however, does not. He finds his over-the-top performances to be the most annoying parts of otherwise good movies. Most films he’s in succeed despite his presence, in his opinion.
Except for one. A little movie called Innerspace.
For some reason my brother just loves that movie. My older brothers and I do, too. The most surprising part is that my younger brother finds Martin Short to be an integral part of that enjoyment. Why is that? Let’s find out.
First of Its Kind
Long before Osmosis Jones, Ant-Man, and even Honey, I Shrunk the Kids came along, Innerspace perfected the art of the absurd miniaturization comedy. It’s so funny the whole way through. And Martin Short is a big part of why the comedy works.
He feels constantly out of his depth. From the very first scene of him cowering in fear at the doctor’s office to the final shot of him taking his tie off and laughing at the prospect of danger, Jack Putter goes through an incredible journey in this film. A fantastic voyage, if you will. And we’re with him every step of the way.
The entire story revolves around him. If he had chosen to do nothing, the tiny pilot inside him, Tuck Pendleton, would have died. If he hadn’t found the courage within him to do all sorts of amazing things, his mission to save Tuck would have failed. But he didn’t fail. Instead, he rose to the challenge and became stronger.
Jack suffers mightily along the way. A lot of bad things happen to him, from getting tased and nearly freezing to death to getting slapped and having his face painfully restructured to make him look like someone else. To say nothing of having scary miniature machines unwillingly injected into him and getting stabbed on the back of his eye by a tiny hook.
All of those painful experiences serve to endear Jack to the audience. I really sympathize with him the whole way through the film. Comedy is often painful. Think of the bathroom scene in Liar Liar or the Laffy Taffy scene in Wreck-It Ralph. Those are both gut-bustingly funny scenes despite showing a character suffering immensely in them. And that is basically the entire premise of Innerspace. We watch a man suffer, but the movie never comes across as cruel. It’s escapist fantasy and funny as all get-out, to boot.
Jack Is a Smart Character
I think the biggest thing that makes my brother enjoy Martin Short’s performance in Innerspace is that his character is really smart. He’s constantly learning from his mistakes, and he is also moving the story forward instead of hindering another character from reaching their goal. I’d like to showcase this by sharing the most pivotal part of the movie.
The Heart of the Movie
The scene that captures the best qualities of Innerspace is the one where Jack goes to his apartment. Don’t get me wrong, the doctor’s office where he discovers he’s “possessed” is one of the funniest scenes in the movie. But when he goes home, the movie finds its heart.
He tries to ignore Tuck’s messages by turning on the TV. This leads to the funniest scene involving a VCR that I’ve ever seen. Tuck sends a magnetic blast that ejects the tape from the VCR so forcefully that it launches it out of the window. And it ignites a fire in the TV, as well as in Tuck’s own equipment. So the two of them have to fight an unexpected fire. This serves to unite them in a common purpose. From this scene on, both Jack and Tuck have the same problem and are working toward the same goal. Seeing them fighting two fires at the same time is a visual cue about this shift.
After that, the movie does something incredibly smart. It has two action sequences that demonstrate the movie’s biggest strength. Jack is an unlikely action hero. When a bad guy disguised as a deliveryman enters Jack’s apartment, Tuck warns him about the threat the man poses. He then coaches Jack on how to fight, from grabbing the man’s gun to kicking him where it counts and knocking him out with the butt of the gun.
During this little action sequence, we get a hint of what Jack is capable of, though it seems like it’s all coming from Tuck. However, we later learn that it’s been in Jack all along to be courageous when he takes on an even tougher bad guy without any help from Tuck.
This Scene Isn’t Done with Us Yet
All of this would have been just fine by itself. We’ve had a fun little bonding scene between the two characters and a nice touch of action to top it off. But the scene isn’t done thrilling us. Not at all. Because it’s not just about the actions taking place in the big world. They have an effect on the tiny world inside Jack’s body. Jack’s heart is racing from all the adrenaline pumping through his veins as a result of his fight.
Up to this point in the film, Tuck has been liberally using Jack’s veins to move around inside Jack’s body without any fear. But now we see why this isn’t always a smart strategy, especially during an action sequence. Because the blood flow speeds up in the vein Tuck is in, carrying him faster and faster toward the one place he doesn’t want to be: Jack’s heart. Such a powerful organ would crush Tuck’s ship in a heartbeat. Literally.
So even as Jack is escaping danger, Tuck is having to fight for his life. The battle isn’t over, even though in a normal movie it would have been. That is one thing that makes Innerspace special. Thankfully, Tuck manages to hook onto the side of the vein he’s in just outside the entrance to the heart and pull himself to safety.
Trying to Find a Simple Solution to the Problem
Right after this amazing sequence, Jack does the smartest thing possible. He drives himself right over to the lab where the miniaturization experiment started. Because of course these guys will know how to get Tuck out of him and solve the whole problem, right? Actually, no. They prove to be incapable of resolving anything, so it’s all up to Jack. But I love that this movie takes the time to explore the simplest solution to the problem.
Much like John McClane trying to call the police in Die Hard to deal with the terrorists, Innerspace is that rare movie that actually explains why the hero is the only one who can fix its main problem when there seems to be a much better option easily available.
The Two Best Action Sequences
I should mention that the heart “attack” scene isn’t even the best action sequence in the movie. Jack’s best part is when he’s trying to escape from the back of a semitruck by jumping into a Mustang. And Tuck’s best part is when he fights another miniaturized warrior inside Jack’s throat and stomach.
But this early action sequence is wonderful in how it perfectly combines the struggles happening inside and outside Jack’s body. After that, Tuck never travels through Jack’s bloodstream willy-nilly. He seems to have a bit more humility about his situation. And Jack just gains more confidence as he goes on.
Jack’s interactions with Tuck and Lydia are consistently great and believable. From Jack’s first words to Lydia, it’s clear that he’s not a pushover. She’s a force to be reckoned with, so it’s definitely saying something that he can hold his own in a conversation with her. Sure, he needs a little guidance from Tuck at first. But before long Jack starts to go off script, and he demonstrates his own sass and personality.
It’s not hard to see how Jack falls in love with Lydia, despite her obvious infatuation with Tuck. That creates a nice little love circle that’s resolved to everyone’s satisfaction at the end of the film. Especially when we learn that Lydia is pregnant with Tuck’s baby. By the way, I love the lack of hesitation this movie has in calling it what it is. Tuck isn’t going to be a dad. He’s already a dad, even though his baby is still in the womb. It’s a beautiful scene seeing him dwarfed by his offspring in Lydia’s body.
Anyway, Martin Short carries so many scenes in Innerspace. And Robert Picardo does an incredible job of copying his mannerisms for the couple of scenes he’s in as Jack disguised as the Cowboy. Boy, this movie gets complicated when I try to talk about it. It’s just a delight from beginning to end.
A Big Part of Why This Movie Works
There are so many other aspects of this movie that work astonishingly well. The special effects are top notch, even by today’s standards. Every actor gives his or her all. Everyone is memorable, even the tiny parts. Jerry Goldsmith’s score is great, as always, at selling the emotions and fantastic elements of the movie.
But none of those things would matter if the heart of the movie wasn’t there. And that is the relationship between Jack and Tuck. If their friendship and partnership hadn’t worked, the film would have fallen apart. But both actors pulled off a mini-miracle by being totally believable and ingratiating to the audience.
The long and short of it is that Martin Short is a big reason why Innerspace works as well as it does.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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