One of the stars of Pandorum is Dennis Quaid. Quaid’s career has been rejuvenated over the last eight or nine years, beginning in 2000 with Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic, and culminating this year with the big budget GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra. At 55 years old, he’s finally becoming an in demand A-list star. But it wasn’t supposed to happen like this. Quaid was supposed to take his big step up to the A-list over 20 years ago.
I’ll see you on the other side, and we’ll see that 22 years before he went to outer space in Pandorum, he was sent”¦ Innerspace.
In 1987, Quaid’s career was on the verge of exploding. After a critically acclaimed performance in The Big Easy, and with the looks, charisma and acting ability to make the big time, he just needed that one big movie to introduce him to the movie-going public. Directed by Gremlin’s Joe Dante, and with a high-concept sci-fi plot, Innerspace was to be that movie. A big budget action comedy movie, with Steven Spielberg as Executive Producer, it should have been huge.
Quaid plays Tuck Pendleton, an alcoholic pilot who has quit the service, and been left by his girlfriend. Pendleton has volunteered to pilot an experimental craft that is to be miniaturised, and injected into a rabbit. It’s the first experiment of this kind, and highly dangerous.
During the procedure, however, the lab is attacked, and the lead scientist just about escapes with a miniaturised Quaid in a syringe. He makes it to a shopping centre, but is shot. In a last ditch attempt to save Tuck’s life, he injects him into a random shopper.
The random shopper is Jack (Martin Short), a hypochondriach supermarket cashier. Jack has been seeing his doctor regularly, and is already a bit of a state. Tuck has to convince Jack that the voices in his head are real, and they need to work together to get Tuck out before the bad guys catch them.
Innerspace isn’t laugh out loud funny, and it isn’t full on action, but it works perfectly. The film is made by the chemistry between Quaid and Short, despite the fact the two actors are never in the same room together. With Tuck in his ear providing guidance, Jack turns from a fragile mess into a confident(ish) action hero. A frenetic pace is kept up throughout, the film doesn’t slow down for a moment. The special effects are fantastic, making Tuck’s journey around Jack’s body believable.
Whilst Quaid makes Pendleton a strong, brash, charismatic character, the reality is that Quaid doesn’t actually get much to do. Effectively sat in a broom cupboard for three quarters of the movie, he does his best with that material he’s been given.
But, truly, this is Short’s movie. A man not well noted for great performances, Innerspace is probably a career best. Genuinely funny, Short plays the part note perfect. He believably transforms from a man lost in life to a man with confidence and purpose. By the end of the movie, you believe Jack can do what ever he sets his mind to.
Considering how well the main parts are cast and written, then, it’s perhaps surprising that it’s the casting and writing of the other characters that lets this film down. Namely, the villains. Two dimensional, with silly character traits, the villains are cartoonish and very, very annoying. A man with an interchangeable mechanical hand, a nymphomaniac female doctor, an 80’s business man in a fur coat, they don’t seem to belong in this film at all. The only exception is Robert Picardo’s The Cowboy. Whilst the character again is very poorly conceived, Picardo (Best known now as the doctor from Star Trek Voyager) manages to pull it off. Over the top as The Cowboy, and then switching gears smoothly to play Jack pretending to be The Cowboy (It’ll make sense if you watch it), Picardo proves that if you have talent, you can make the best of any part you’re given.
Ultimately, Innerspace didn’t particularly help anyones career. It fared badly at the box office, the reason why remains a bit of a mystery. It was vastly out-performed by the hipper, teen-friendly Adventures in Babysitting. Despite the futuristic miniaturisation storyline, there was’nt as much interest as maybe there should have been.
Quaid did get a couple of other leading parts, most notable in Jerry Lee Lewis biopic Great Balls of Fire (As Lewis himself). But cocaine addiction, and a battle with anorexia, stilted Quaid’s career. Eventually kicking the cocaine habit, Quaid managed to get his personal life and his career back on track. With the lead role in Frequency, and a small part in Traffic, he began to rebuild his marketability. In 2004 he played the leads in the big budget The Day After Tomorrow, the comedy-drama In Good Company, and the remake of The Flight of the Phoenix. Last year he played one of the leads in the gimmicky Vantage Point. Quaid is currently filming The Special Relationship, where he plays former president Bill Clinton.
Things are certainly looking up for Quaid. It is a shame, though, that he didn’t get that break 20 years ago. He’s got a lot of catching up to do. Let’s hope Pandorum continues his successful run.
Innerspace is available now on DVD
Pandorum is released this Friday 25th September in the US, and next Friday 2nd October here in the UK.