Saturday, November 2, 2013

Movie #221: Gremlins 2: The New Batch

Gremlins 2: The New Batch is, obviously, the sequel to Gremlins, though it came out six years later. It stars some of the same cast (Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Dick Miller, Jackie Joseph, and Howie Mandell as the voice of Gizmo) and adds Christopher Lee, John Glover, Robert Picardo, Haviland Morris and Tony Randall as the voice of the "Brain Gremlin."

It's several years after the destruction in Kingston Falls, and in New York City, the real estate dealings of billionaire Donald Trump Daniel Clamp (Glover) have intruded upon the curio shop owned by Mr. Wing (Keye Luke). Clamp's slimy henchman Forster (Picardo) offers to buy the old man out; he refuses, but dies soon after, leaving Gizmo homeless.

Gizmo flees, but is captured and taken to a genetics lab in the massive Clamp Tower, home, among other things to the Clamp Cable Network. Billy (Galligan) and his fiancee Kate (Cates) now work there, Billy as an artist, Kate as a tour guide. Billy works under the hyper-stressed New York career exec Marla Bloodstone (Morris), and isn't anyone in particular until Clamp shows interest in his work.

Somewhere in here, Billy realizes that Gizmo is in the building, tracks him to the genetics lab run by the somewhat ghoulish Dr. Catheter (Lee), and frees him, but in a series of wacky missteps, Gizmo gets wet, one of the resulting mogwai gets brought home because Kate seriously doesn't pay attention, they all (minus Gizmo) eat after midnight, gremlins arise, get soaked, and take over the building. And Billy, Clamp, Kate and Marla have until nightfall to sort this out, or else the gremlins will be loosed upon New York!

Unlike the original, which starts cute and takes a hard left into horror with a side order of slapstick, Gremlins 2 starts out stupidly comic and satirical and never looks up. The gremlins are give much more in the way of personality, but it's mostly sight gags. They eat a bunch of genetic material in the lab and mutate; a bat gremlin injected with sunblock smashes through the wall leaving behind the Batman symbol and inadvertently brings Mr. Futterman (Miller) into the story. The motley crew manages to destroy the gremlins because one of them turned into living electricity and they use that to electrocute the rest.

But really, at this point, the storyline isn't important. The movie cheerfully breaks the fourth wall, bringing in Leonard Maltin to repeat his panning of Gremlins and then get immediately attacked by the little monsters. The body count is much lower (just Dr. Catheter, I think, the first victim of the electric gremlin), and the gremlins aren't vicious and evil so much as silly and obliquely threatening. The most menacing one gets turned into a half-spider, then shot and burned by Gizmo, wearing a Rambo-style headband and wielding a flaming arrow made from a white-out bottle. It's absurd.

And yet...the satire is at least partially on point, if you were around in the 90s. John Glover's Clamp is affable and reasonable - you'd never see the same character played that way now, since we now know that Wall Street rich guys are sociopathic monsters. Clamp, meanwhile, is friendly and a little childlike, and a bit too enthused about everything.

Actually, the support cast - Lee, Morris, Glover, and Robert Prosky as late-night horror host Grandpa Fred - are the best things about the movie. Galligan and Cates are just kind of bland and likable, but compare them with the intense commitment to the absurd that we got from the leads in, say, Airplane!, and you see where this movie falls down. For all that, it has some charm and some funny moments, and if you know the 90s and some movie history and don't try for a minute to take it seriously, it's actually pretty fun.

My grade: C
Rewatch value: Medium-high

Next up: Adam's Rib