It's not an easy summer to be a kid. You've got your "Tarzan" and you've got your "Muppets From Space" and that's about it. But restless tots and even 'tweens will be happy to know that "Inspector Gadget" is here to save the day. What's more, this peppy live-action interpretation of the popular cartoon has enough good-natured pop references to entertain even the most curmudgeonly adult companions.
Things get off to an appropriately antic start with a wildly intricate stunt sequence in which police officer John Brown (Matthew Broderick) is making his hometown of Riverton City safe for women, children and at least two little dogs.
At the risk of giving too much away, it should be said that the sequence is actually a dream. In real life, John Brown is a modest security guard whose fondest wish is to join the Riverton police force. When the laboratory of Dr. Brenda Bradford (Joely Fisher) is broken into and her experiment in robotics is stolen by the evil Sanford Solex (Rupert Everett), Brown will have his chance -- after a little surgery.
Fans of the "Inspector Gadget" cartoon will most likely be delighted by director David Kellogg's efforts to bring the character to life on-screen, which he does with terrific imagination, zip and brisk comic flair. Combining the most lively visual elements of movies such as "Batman," "Dick Tracy" and "The Mask," Kellogg keeps the action moving with plenty of colorful gizmos and gags. Even the violence never gets too out of hand, unless you consider falling bowling balls, some cartoonish gunplay and assault with toothpaste to be objectionable.
Broderick, who has already earned his brownie points this summer in the blackhearted comedy "Election," proves to be just as winning -- and believable -- as an unassuming man who doesn't know quite what to make of his newfound super-powers. Even with every twitch of his head accompanied by a whirring sound effect, he manages to make this retro-chic RoboCop warmly human.
While kids will be enchanted by Gadget's super-charged inventions, grown-ups will appreciate the touches of more adult humor that grace "Inspector Gadget," many of them delivered by Everett, who tosses off Solex's bons mots with oily elegance.
References to "The Simpsons," "Godzilla" (in which Broderick also starred) and the deadpan appearance of Dabney Coleman as a disgruntled police chief make up for a multitude of product placement sins, chief among them related to Skittles, whose over-the-top cameo appearance would be tasteless if isn't weren't so consistent with the movie's flossy tone.
"Inspector Gadget" may not be a work of genius, but kids could do a lot worse.
Starring Matthew Broderick, Rupert Everett, Joely Fisher
Directed by David Kellogg
Released by Walt Disney Pictures
Rated PG (wacky violence/action, language and innuendo)
Running time 80 minutes
Sun score ***