Gonzo gizmos do the trick

Movie: Inspector Gadget

Our Rating: 3.50

A hero ain't nothin' but a good excuse for a villain, and "Inspector Gadget" has an eminently engaging one in Sanford Scolex, a handsome, wealthy psychopath determined to destroy his squeaky-clean nemesis.

Rupert Everett, such a funny charmer in An Ideal Husband, is right on target as the sneering, scowling Scolex, who takes as much pleasure in creating chaos as he does in abusing scientist sidekick Kramer (a very funny Andy Dick of television's "NewsRadio") and dim bodyguard Sikes (Michael G. Hagerty) or tossing off groan-worthy jokes. At one juncture, Kramer suggests that his boss' new title, "Claw" (denoting the mechanical contraption that's replaced his crushed left hand), makes a "dashing appellation." Responds Scolex: "What's that, a hillbilly with a tuxedo?" Everett arches his eyebrows, snarls and goes way over the top. And we like it.

Matthew Broderick (most recently seen in the twisted satire Election) is also smartly cast as the good guy in this likable comic adventure. For Disney's pricey, live-action adaptation of the syndicated cartoon series of the same name, first-time director David Kellogg and a team of three writers have turned a vaguely European crimefighter created by a French animation company into a do-gooder out to defend truth, justice and the American way.

Broderick is John Brown, a decent, good-hearted security officer at the Bradford Research facility -- home to advanced robotics research being conducted by father-and-daughter scientist team Artemus (René Auberjonois) and Brenda (Joely Fisher). One fateful evening, the lab is raided, the senior Bradford is killed, Brown is seemingly blown to bits, and Scolex, the villain behind the burglary, is crippled.

Backed by the city of Riverton's ditzy mayor (Cheri Oteri) and territorial police chief (Dabney Coleman), Brenda makes the barely human Brown the guinea pig in an experiment to develop a bionic police officer. "You are now a sophisticated network of tissue, software and hardware," she tells the newly christened Inspector Gadget, who is befuddled by the transformation -- and clearly in love with the inventor of his new body -- but readily adapts to his role as the town's supercop.

Alas, the poor Gadget is initially assigned to menial police work, and he dutifully saves kittens, catches speeders and helps school kids cross the street. But soon enough, he turns his attention to solving the mystery of the old scientist's murder, employing a variety of whizbang gizmos and a talking 1963 Lincoln convertible to do fierce battle with Claw and his minions. The army of adversaries includes the teeth-clattering RoboGadget, a cross between Robocop and a '40s gangster that's Gadget's evil twin.

The film's funniest sequence is a reference to both the original "Godzilla" and its recent, Broderick-fueled remake. As RoboGadget tromps his way across the city, setting fires and destroying buildings, one Asian-American man is moved to exclaim, "This is why I left Tokyo!"

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