Makeup/special-effects maestro Stan Winston was justifiably lauded in 1993 for his triumph in rendering the awesome dinosaurs of JURASSIC PARK. Meanwhile, this Winston-directed feature, shot years earlier as UPWORLD, premiered on home video and was justifiably ignored.
A long-snouted little man in hobbit garb emerges from the sod of Los Angeles one night and witnesses a mob-related murder. Casey Gallagher (Anthony Michael Hall), the usual loose-cannon young policeman, reluctantly teams up with Gnorm the Gnome to solve the case. In return for ID'ing the gunman,
Gnorm asks Casey to recover what he lost in the confusion, a mystic crystal vital to his subterranean civilization. The two heroes tool around town, where the troglodyte dwarf, accessorized in a tourist shirt and oversized sunglasses, draws only mildly curious stares from citizens. Finally Gnorm
fingers Gallagher's own mentor/superior (Jerry Orbach) on the ever-corrupt LAPD as the mystery villain, and departs with his precious crystal after 86 of the longest minutes ever.
It's the old mismatched buddy-cops formula misapplied to a comic-fantasy premise--one that had zero magic to begin with and remains predictably banal down to the fadeout gag. The human actors deliver workmanlike performances, more than could be hoped for given the script. As for Gnorm the Gnome,
this fox-faced Stan Winston creation is incredibly lifelike and expressive, but only from the waist up, which is how he's generally photographed. Gnorm's personality is more like a gnebbish, and his quizzical reactions at the ways of "Upworld" quickly grow stale, especially his Gnomespeak remarks
over heroine Claudia Christian and her "nice po-poes." That's the worst the language ever gets; in a rather desperate attempt to peddle the film as family-friendly all (human) swear words have been excised from the dialogue--note telltale gaps on the soundtrack. Stan Winston made his directorial
debut in 1989 with the atmospheric (and deadly serious) PUMPKINHEAD, which was sequelized without his participation in 1994. (Violence.)
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