Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Blast from the Past Movie Review: GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH (1990)

Probably one of the earliest signs of my interest in horror film and fiction was when I wanted to see the film Gremlins 2 when it came out in 1990, when I was a little over five years old. Being rather conservative and possessing a great deal of common sense, Mom and Dad said no. Although I may have seen bits and bobs of it here and there on television, I never saw the complete film until The Plaza Theater in Atlanta hosted a special spaced-out COVID screening. So wanting to support a local theater--where, incidentally, I'd seen the first film--and figuring I could see the film in theaters at last, off I went...

The Plot

Some years after the events of the first film, Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan) is working in New York City as an artist for a media firm headed by the technology-obsessed developer Daniel Clamp (John Glover). He's trying to save money so he and Kate Beringer (Phoebe Cates), who works as a tour guide at the same building, can get married. Unfortunately the elderly Mr. Wing (Keye Luke) has died, allowing Clamp to buy out his curiosity shop. The benign gremlin Gizmo escapes the destruction of the shop, but is captured by scientists conveniently from a lab in the Clamp property where Billy works. Billy rescues him from unpleasant medical experimentation, but some misunderstandings involving Billy's lecherous supervisor Marla Bloodstone (Haviland Morris) and a janitor get Gizmo wet. The Gremlins are unleashed once more on New York City, all while Kate becomes suspicious that Billy is cheating on her with Marla.

The Good

*The film retains a lot of the goofball physical humor of the original. Although I didn't like it nearly as much as the first film (more on that later), there were several moments where I did laugh out loud.

*Although I didn't like creator Joe Dante's decision to make this film a satire of the original film and film sequels in general, it did spawn a couple good jokes--one involves trying to find loopholes in the rules governing Gizmo and another involves an appearance by Leonard Maltin.

*Galligan and Cates are just as adorable as Billy and Kate as they are in the first film. Glover is entertaining as Clamp, a good-hearted combination of Donald Trump and Ted Turner with a cable television empire and a flair for turning everything into a way to promote himself. Robert Prosky is fun as "Grandpa Fred," a Grandpa Munster knockoff who hosts a horror show for the network.

*The special effects team are clearly having fun with all the new creatures the dramatically larger budget could buy.

The Bad

*The film would have probably been a lot funnier when it came out in 1990, but seeing it in 2020 it came off as very dated. There are jokes about the Phantom of the Opera musical (premiering in New York in 1988), as I mentioned earlier Billy's ultimate boss is a cross between Ted Turner and Donald Trump, a supporting character is a Japanese tourist who can't stop taking photos, and one of the gags involves Hulk Hogan. It lacks the timeless quality of the original.

*The film feels more disjointed than the original, like a bunch of gags (often funny, I admit) strung together.

*There was no need for the Looney Tunes segment at the beginning of the film. That's not why we're here. More broadly, rather than the dark comedy of the original, this one is just a bunch of slapstick humor that didn't work as well. Joe Dante apparently had more creative control over this one than the original and although as an artist myself I prefer more creative freedom than less, sometimes having someone able to tell somebody "no" is a good idea.

*The supporting cast is much weaker than in the original. The first film gave us the vile Mrs. Deagle, Billy's doomed high-school teacher, his eccentric and inept father and his kick-ass mother (seriously, watch the kitchen battle), and even that kid who hangs out with Billy despite being around half his age. Although Christopher Lee playing a mad scientist is a nice genre in-joke, he's in the movie too little to impress.

(Seriously, Lee would've been better as the film's human villain. Robert Picardo's Forster, the building's jerky security chief, doesn't measure up to Mrs. Deagle as a human antagonist.) 

Bringing back the Futtermans (apparently they didn't die in the first film) and giving them much bigger roles didn't help either. They were much better in smaller doses in first film, but the second film turns Mr. Futterman into an action hero.

*Some of the attempts to recapture the magic of the original fail, like Kate describing another holiday she hates.

*The film had a $50M budget to work with, as opposed to the $11M of the original. It seems all they spent on this was more Gremlins, some early 1990s CGI that's rather recognizable as such, and hiring Christopher Lee to play a mad scientist. Would've been better to invest it in a funnier script--perhaps they could have released it later and had Chris Columbus write it like the first time?

*Although it's around the same runtime as the first film, it felt a lot longer, probably it wasn't nearly as funny.

*Why do Billy and Kate need to save money to get married? They're already living together and both have full-time jobs. Unless they were planning on having kids very quickly and having Kate quit her job to be a stay-at-home mom, they seem financially pretty fine. If they wanted to avoid the obvious question of "why don't they just courthouse it," maybe Kate has rather impractical wedding dreams for someone with her family's income? Ergo, poor Billy is on the hook financially just like he was for his father's incompetence at breadwinning in the first film. They could have pre-empted Father of the Bride in mining that vein for humor.

(Hmm...between this and my thoughts on Christopher Lee, I'm thinking of a "how I would have done it.")

The Verdict

Maybe worth seeing if you're a Gremlins completist, especially since there's going to be an animated prequel series set in the 1920s in which a young Mr. Wing first encounters Gizmo. And make sure you rent it, don't buy it. 6.0 out of 10.

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