AAAH! A little peace for parents across the nation, as they take their children to "Inspector Gadget."
Here's a Walt Disney live-action movie that doesn't make you want to fiddle impatiently with the blades of your Swiss army knife. No obnoxious stuff. Just a benevolent, cruise-control-paced flick -- almost old-fashioned Disney -- about a security guard called John Brown (Matthew Broderick) who's shy, clean-cut and dedicated to keeping this world a decent place.
This is a guy who says "Wowser!" when he sees the woman of his dreams.
When the scheming Sanford Scolex (an enjoyably nefarious Rupert Everett) breaks into the Bradford Research Facility, kills scientist Artemus Bradford (Rene Auberjonois) and makes off with his research (including a robotic foot), Our Man Brown goes after him in his trusty Chevette.
After a frenetic car chase, which leaves Brown pinned and upside down, Scolex tosses an exploding cigar into the open window of Brown's car and blows most of him into smithereens. (Don't worry, kids, he's still alive.)
The sequence of events also causes a large bowling ball to destroy one of Scolex's hands, forcing him to wear a hooking device. Scolex figures he needs a new name, one guaranteed to strike terror into the hearts of Riverton City residents. Unfortunately, "Hook" is taken. He opts for Claw. Say it again: Claw!
But Claw isn't the only one to be retrofitted. Touched that John risked life and limb for her father, Bradford's daughter Brenda (Joely Fisher) decides that the security guard is the perfect candidate for Bradford's dream: to build a sophisticated, crime-fighting superhero armed with countless accessories for every conceivable situation. In other words, Inspector Gadget.
"I'm not me any more," complains the new Gadget after his parts have been fully installed. "I'm a hardware store."
Brenda introduces him to Gadgetmobile (voice of D.L. Hughley), a wise-talking car with a ton of special effects and a whole lot of back-chatting attitude. She also familiarizes Gadget with his own gizmos and doodads.
When he needs to make a phone call, for instance, he clicks back a thumb and pulls an antenna out of another finger and talks into the palm of his hand. His arms can extend for yards. He can fire jets of blue toothpaste at anyone crossing his path. And if bad guys zoom off in a getaway car, Gadget produces a set of giant, spring-mounted legs and catches up with them in no time.
But after making headlines for his great police work, Gadget has to stop Claw, who uses the Bradford research to create a bad Inspector Gadget (is this "RoboCop" for tykes or what?) who proceeds to destroy the city.
One problem: The good Gadget is still a little unfamiliar with his personal arsenal. Like, what should he do when he finds himself falling out of the sky?
The movie, based on the TV cartoon series, is exceptionally pleasant, and there's just enough humor to make it enjoyable for adults. And last but not least, Broderick is perfectly cast. He imbues his role with perfectly goofy saintliness.
"You blew me up and my Chevette," Inspector Gadget angrily tells Claw. "And I really liked that car."
That's telling him, Inspector.
INSPECTOR GADGET (PG, 80 minutes) -- Contains the detonation of our hero and some slapstick violence, but nothing too horrible. Area theaters.
CAPTION: Wowser! Matthew Broderick really uses his head as "Inspector Gadget."