Lou Pickney's Online Commentary
September 23, 2004
Tonight, on my third attempt, I finally finished watching the movie Gremlins 2. I fell asleep the first two times I tried watching it. And, wow, what a letdown. Whoever gave it three stars for the Cinemax quality rating deal deserves a severe beating.
Storytime: in the summer of 1990, Gremlins 2 came out as the long-awaited sequel to the 1984 classic Gremlins, which (along with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) are credited for spurring the creation of the "PG-13" rating (read this for a great explanation of how the PG-13 rating came to be). Gremlins is one of the first movies that I ever saw in a theatre; now keep in mind that I was six years old when it was released in June 1984, and there were some things that went over my head (like the Santa Claus part), which in hindsight is a good thing.
For Gremlins 2, my brother Matt and I went to see it at the old Martin Twin, a movie theatre located by 100 Oaks Mall in Nashville. Even by 1990 standards the Martin Twin was a relic. 100 Oaks Mall nearly went under a few years after that (before a most fortunate rebirth brought the place back to life; it is now a thriving mall that is about to deliver a knockout punch to nearby Harding Mall). The Hollywood 27 theatre has long since replaced the Martin Twin. But that is now, and in the summer of 1990 none of this had happened yet.
Matt was 9 at the time, so he was a bit older for Gremlins 2 than I was for the original. For this go-around I was 13, not exactly in the prime of my life, but apparently I was the perfect target age for the movie, as I loved it. The idea of more Gremlin adventures really appealed to me, and the movie delivered. In a hilarious scene, the movie stops in an apparent projector malfunction... just long enough to fool the audience, before it becomes obvious that it is a gag where the Gremlins have "taken over" the movie projection. This goes on for a minute before Hulk Hogan, complete with a WWF World Title belt and wrestling outfit, yells at the camera for the Gremlins to put the movie back on. Now I know that makes no sense, but at the time I thought it was great. And I do remember the people in the theatre at the time making that grumbling noise you hear when a projector goes awry when it first started and then laughing heartily when the joke was revealed. So I know that I wasn't alone in enjoying it... though I suspect that the gag doesn't work as well outside of the theatre setting.
The summer of 1990 is more than 14 years in the past, and I hadn't seen the movie since then. At one point I had actually tried tracking it down on DVD, only to find that it wasn't available (Gremlins 2 didn't come out on DVD until August 2002). But when I spotted it on Cinemax Action West 7 (or whatever channel it was), I made sure to record it with my DVR.
And the results this time around? Ugh. Let's just say this was no Steven Spielburg classic (which the original was). Bad acting seemed to be par for the course in the movie, with only Christopher Lee (as Dr. Catheter -- yes, that was his character's name, Dr. Piss Tube) putting on a good performance in that department. It was a bit weird seeing people smoking inside at work, especially in New York City, since that sort of thing is no longer allowed. The characters were almost all one-dimensional stereotypes, right down to the Japanese man portrayed as being obsessed with taking photos. I think the political correctness movement has made Hollywood change the rule of "there must be at least one token stereotype character in every second-rate movie" to "there must be at least one token gay character in every second-rate movie".
There are so many little things that bothered me. Like when Murray Futterman was being attacked by the flying Gremlin (who had been given the sunlight protection venom) on the streets of New York, people walk by, glance casually at it, and keep moving on. Now I've been to NYC a couple of times, and I know that it can be a hard ass city, but it's not THAT jaded. Even the most hardened, apathetic-towards-others businessman who's late for a huge meeting wouldn't do that. I'm not saying he'd stop to help, but he'd at least freak out and run. It's like in Grand Theft Auto when you shoot someone in broad daylight and some people run but others carry on with their business like it's no big deal.
Then there's the problem of the total lack of chemistry between Zach Galligan (who played Billy Peltzer) and Phoebe Cates (who played Kate Beringer). There's a very frail attempt at a romantic sub-plot, but I felt more of a sincere connection between Dr. Catheter and his labwork than I did beteen Billy and Kate.
Speaking of Cates, she had Gremlins, the famous topless pool scene in the classic Fast Times At Ridgemont High... and not much else. It's funny how things work in Hollywood. Then again, maybe that whole no-chemistry thing from the last paragraph has something to do with it, too.
My point is this: don't watch Gremlins 2. Not now, not ever. Watch the original Gremlins twice before you watch Gremlins 2 once. Watching the second tarnishes the original, much like what happens with so many sub-par sequels. I wish now I could've been left with the memories of the 1990 screening of Gremlins 2 and let that be that.
Oh, and how could I forget... the best part of that 1990 viewing? There was an actual fire at the Martin Twin that happened WHILE WE WERE THERE. I kid you not. A wasp's nest had been built on top of the building, and the people working there had attempted to burn the nest to destroy it. Yes, wasp spray existed in 1990, but why spend $7 on a can of wasp spray when you can just play with matches? Unfortunately, the people responsible failed to properly put the fire out, and the flames smoldered. The fire then picked back up, smoke started coming from the building, and the fire department was called out to handle it.
Luckily for Matt and I, by the time the alarm sounded, the movie had ended and we were waiting in the lobby. My Dad was coming to pick us up, and he was following a fire engine, which he noticed was oddly taking the same route that he was. You could imagine how he felt when the fire engine pulled up to the theatre where his 9 and 13 year old sons were inside. Luckily all was fine, but if that had happened during the movie, like 5 minutes after the Gremlins fake movie projection problems scene, it would have seemed like just part of the movie to the audience. What are the odds of a fire with that movie on that particular day with us there? Luckily all turned out well, but it certainly gave me a lasting memory about the Martin Twin... and about Gremlins 2.