Launching a two-man movie review program in 1990 meant our weekly effort followed the template set by Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. There was no question about it. That included the occasional creation of themed shows. In the case of the esteemed Chicago film critics, I think those were mostly used to put an evergreen half-hour in the can to buy them the occasional vacation week. In our little outpost of cinema — in a town with nine whole screens — we were more likely required to pull that particular rip cord when not enough new titles came to town to fill out a full episode. That’s precisely what happened the last weekend of June in 1991, when it appears The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear was the only film that opened. So we decided to create a special episode: Movies That Shoulda Been Summer Blockbusters.
We picked out summer movies that we loved that had settled for minor hit status at best. For the next few weeks, I’ll use this space to share the quickie reviews I wrote for my selections. (For what it’s worth, my distinguished colleague of the program was far more daring and creative in his personal picks. For instance, he opted to lead off his tally of summer films that deserved better than they got with Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce.) Sometimes I rewrite these old reviews just to clean up minor messes or rejigger the syntax to make them better suited for online reading. With these reviews, though, I’m going to stick with the radio script, hence the additional prefacing at the top.
My first selection for a summer movie that deserves to be a blockbuster comes from just last summer — Gremlins 2: The New Batch. The first Gremlins film became a hit back in 1984 by mixing black comedy with effective horror. For the sequel, though, it seems as if director Joe Dante came to a decision that that the top priority was to have fun. Therefore, Gremlins 2 becomes a wild, off-the-wall comedy as hundreds — maybe thousands — of the evil gremlins take over a New York City skyscraper that has everything from a food court to a cable television network to a genetics laboratory. Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates, the two principals from the 1984 release, are back to reprise their roles, but the film belongs to the antics of the gremlins, Although, John Glover is often able to steal away scenes with his performance as Daniel Clamp, the ultra-smooth tycoon who is watching his building be overrun. Whether the gremlins are running amok on a microwave cooking show, staging a production number, or demonstrating an unusual prowess for hand shadows, Gremlins 2 is always frantic, delightful fun.