This New Batch Of `Gremlins' Is A Match For The First One

XXX ``Gremlins 2: The New Batch,'' with Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, John Glover, Robert Prosky. Directed by Joe Dante, script by Charlie Haas. Aurora Village, Crossroads, Factoria, Gateway, Grand Cinemas Alderwood, Kent, Kirkland Parkplace, Oak Tree, Renton Village, Uptown, Valley drive-in. ``PG-13'' - Parental guidance advised, due to violence, language.


When the 1956 ``Invasion of the Body Snatchers'' was remade in 1978, the filmmakers expanded on the original's sharp social satire by moving it from a small California town to San Francisco.

Joe Dante and his new writer, Charlie Haas, have done much the same thing with ``Gremlins 2: The New Batch,'' a costly sequel to Dante's 1984 box-office smash that is, like most summer sequels, essentially a remake. What lends it novelty and makes it such wicked fun is the change of locale from a Capra-esque small town to rude, hectic New York City.

The sweet kids from the first movie (Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates) have moved to the Big Apple, where strangers knock them down, cab drivers insult them and computer voices tell manic yuppies to ``have a powerful day'' while welcoming them to the men's room (``Hey, pal, I sure hope you wash those hands'').

A Ted Turner type (John Glover) not only colorizes ``Casablanca'' but provides it with ``a happier ending.'' At a trendy Canadian restaurant, Gordon Lightfoot plays in the background, waiters dress as Mounties and clean the fish at your table. Cable television has become so specialized that it features The Archery Channel, The Safety Channel and a show called ``Microwave With Marge,'' where the sherry-guzzling cook pushes processed foods; one of her favorites is bologna and bean dip roll-ups.

Clearly the place is ripe for an all-out assault by the beasties who tore up tiny Kingston Falls six years ago. They don't look quite the same, and in fact their new creator, Rick Baker, has given them a wider range of personalities. One of them does a mean imitation of William F. Buckley (the voice is actually Tony Randall's); when they give birth, and one mutates into a monster spider, they resemble the creatures from ``Aliens.'' But they're as cheerfully, amorally destructive as ever, giving special meaning to the lyrics of ``New York, New York'' during a deranged group sing-along.

Like the original ``Gremlins,'' Dante's sequel is stuffed with movie jokes. It opens with Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck arguing over who's going to the ride the Warner Bros. shield. Leonard Maltin turns up on television to pan the cassette of ``Gremlins,'' while the creatures sneak up behind him to register their own opinion. A late-night horror-movie host introduces ``Attack of the Octopus People,'' and the stars of the original ``Little Shop of Horrors,'' Jackie Joseph and Dick Miller, turn up as Galligan's visiting friends.

At one point, the movie itself seems to burn and disintegrate as the gremlins take over the projection booth and throw on a black-and-white 1950s nudist film called ``Volleyball Holiday.'' The audience at a Wednesday-night promotional screening was nearly convinced it was happening.

Even better is a throwaway bit in which Christopher Lee, the best-known Dracula of the 1950s, wanders into a genetics lab carrying one of the people-growing pods from ``Invasion of the Body Snatchers.'' And with all the mayhem spreading around him, of course, no one seems to notice.