"Gremlins 2: The New Batch" is very funny, very frenetic and very uneven. It must be said that there are many big laughs, but it's also important to note that this is less a cohesive movie than a fragmented series of bizarre sketches with even more bizarre characters.
It's both clever and annoying at the same time and more a chaotic off-the-wall spoof of the first "Gremlins" than a sequel.In short, "Gremlins 2" is like the Muppets on speed. And parents who take their kids to this film instead of sending them, risk an Excedrin headache this big!
Five cast-members return from the original "Gremlins" - Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates as small-town romantics Billy and Kate, Dick Miller and Jackie Joseph as their zany older friends, and Kenneth Tobey, who played a service station owner in the first film and is seen here as a harried movie projectionist.
Billy and Kate have left their "It's a Wonderful Life"-style hometown and are living in New York City. (They are living together in an apartment until they can afford to get married, a dubious message for young audience members - how much more does it cost to be married than live together?)
And they work in the same huge Manhattan high-rise office building, a sterile corporation run by John Glover as mogul Daniel Clamp, an obvious blend of Ted Turner and Donald Trump. (Galligan's supervisor is named Marla; guess where that's going to lead.)
Clamp's building is the central location for the film, which takes on overtones of "The Towering Inferno" before it's over. And one of the upper floors houses a genetics experimentation lab run by mad scientist Christopher Lee (who else?). The film takes off when Gizmo (again voiced by Howie Mandell), Galligan's pet from the first film, is brought to him.
Naturally, Billy discovers Gizmo is in the building and rescues him from dissection - and, of course, Gizmo gets wet, his nasty offspring eat after midnight and before you know it this trumped-up tower is overrun with zany gremlins.
Just to add to the equation, they also drink all kinds of Jekyll-Hyde potions in the genetics lab and before you know it there is a flying bat-gremlin, an intellectual gremlin (voiced by Tony Randall), a giant spider gremlin - even an alluring (?) female gremlin that may remind you of Miss Piggy.
It all culminates in a climactic musical number - "New York, New York" - as the intellectual gremlin throws a sport coat over his shoulder, a la Sinatra, and a huge chorus line of gremlins sing and dance.
Most of the action is set to the tune of Jerry Goldsmith's familiar music and a bevy of sound effects, which sound suspiciously like those used in Warner Bros. cartoons. (Just to set the tone, the film begins with a brief new Chuck Jones-animated Bugs Bunny/Daffy Duck cartoon, which plays like an updated version of "Duck Amok.")
Along the way there are nice supporting bits by Robert J. Prosky and Gedde Watanabe, among others, and guest cameos by a number of familiar faces, including the film's director Joe Dante, Henry Gibson, John Astin and Hulk Hogan. (Hogan's bit involves an out-of-the-movie gag that tries to fool the audience into thinking the film has broken. It works, but it also slows down the movie's pace.)
This isn't a movie to see for its story, but rather for clever inventive bits of business. Film buffs will enjoy all the in-jokes bouncing off the walls, far too many to list here - and probably too many to catch in one viewing.
Here are a few samples, however: Various verbal and visual jokes, movie colorizing, the Batman logo in a broken window, "Entertainment Tonight" critic Leonard Maltin attacked as he reviews the "Gremlins" video (he really did pan the first film!), a revamped joke from the first movie about a "flasher" gremlin, etc. Even the first film's most controversial moment, Kate's revelation about why she hates Christmas, gets spoofed here, with a revelation about why she hates Lincoln's Birthday.
Having interviewed Joe Dante a couple of times and knowing his love for Warner Bros. cartoons, I can only assume he was in heaven while directing this sequel to his biggest hit. And much of the movie plays like a live-action Warner's animated short. (I've always thought the gremlins were a mutant hybrid of Muppets and the Tasmanian Devil, a Warner's cartoon character.) And there seems to be a lot more time spent with creatures and less with humans this time out.
I must admit I had fun with all this, but it was tiring. You may feel fatigued when it's over.
On the other hand, I'll probably go back again to catch the myriad gags I no doubt missed.
"Gremlins 2" is rated PG-13 for violence, though there are fewer actual on-screen deaths this time - both of humans and gremlins. And there are a couple of profanities and a few vulgar jokes. (Two gross-out scenes try to outdo the first film's microwave and blender moments - several gremlins are squished by an elevator and one is pushed through a shredder. Ugh.)