"INNERSPACE" is significant for one thing -- the establishment of Martin Short as the funniest new kid on the Hollywood block. Too bad that's not enough for the sensation-a-second makers of "Innerspace."
An initially entertaining cribbing of "Back to the Future," "Fantastic Voyage" and "All of Me" becomes an out-of-control vehicle at the hands of Spielberg minion Joe Dante and George Lucas' techno-fex outfit, Industrial Light and Magic.
Lt. Tuck Pendelton (Dennis "I Am Not Jack Nicholson" Quaid) is a drunkie test pilot who loses his girlfriend and leaves the Navy for a cutting-edge project at the Vector-Scope Laboratory. Using the lab's Silicon Valley gadgetry, Tuck and his spaceship will be miniaturized, then injected into the body of a rabbit, so he can scientifically roam the inner bunnyscape. But seedy entrepreneurs Victor Scrimshaw and Dr. Margaret Canker want to steal the lab's two dwarfing microchips and sell them as potential superweapons to the highest bidder.
When the bad guys invade the lab, Tuck and one of the coveted microchips are already miniaturized and hanging out in a syringe. In desperation, the mission leader injects teeny Tuck into the passing rump of Jack Putter (Short), a neurotic supermarket checker on the edge of a nervous breakdown.
Everything frazzles Putter -- from the hairsprays that make him sneeze to a nightmare in which he rings up a ridiculously high grocery tab for a red-haired woman in green, who then shoots him. He has chronic headaches. He chews aspirin dry. He needs a vacation.
When Tuck radios Putter (via his eardrum) to inform him of his newest problem, he stands up and bellows, "I'm possessed!"
Thrown headlong into this chip 'n' dagger brouhaha, Putter enlists the help of Tuck's estranged journalist girlfriend Lydia (Meg Ryan), and the three of them try to retrieve the other microchip.
If you regard Dante's overdone nonsense as a backdrop for Short's antics, you will not be disappointed. Short's mounting anxiety at the task before him -- which involves gymnastic car chasing, fighting a lunk whose arm becomes a blow torch, having his face painfully readjusted for a disguise and giving the girl away "Casablanca"-style -- is where "Innerspace" works. Ostensibly the movie's comic foil, Short becomes the main attraction.
INNERSPACE (R) --
Opening Wednesday at area theaters.