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JACK MATHEWS

Mum's The Word On 'Garbage Pail' Movie

August 29, 1987|JACK MATHEWS

For the last couple of years, the Garbage Pail Kids trading cards, which come in Topps Chewing Gum packets, have been conversation starters from coast to coast.

Children talked about them because the little creatures on the fronts are fun. Parents talked about them because some of the illustrated characters are disgusting to look at. Card collectors talked about them because cards are their business. And the people who made Cabbage Patch Dolls talked about them because they felt their dolls may have inspired Topps' kids.

Topps, a 50-year-old, Brooklyn-based company that has been marketing chewing gum with baseball cards almost from the beginning, has licensed dozens of Garbage Pail Kids' items since the first series hit the stores in June, 1985. The list includes everything from T-shirts to billfolds, from rubber stamps to waste baskets.

Last week, the latest licensed item--"The Garbage Pail Kids Movie"--hit the market, to the general dismay of the nation's film critics, and suddenly, nobody wants to talk about it.

"I don't want to say anything," said the man who answered the phone in Topps' marketing department. "I am the vice president of marketing, but you don't know my name. You're not talking to me."

The marketing people at Atlantic Releasing Co., the distributor of "The Garbage Pail Kids" movie, weren't too anxious to talk, either. It took two days to reach Atlantic marketing-chief Martin Rabinovich, and then it was like trying to pry war secrets out of Ollie North.

"It's a delicate situation," Rabinovich said. "I hope you'll be as kind as you can be."

Rod Amateau, who produced, directed and co-wrote the movie, is said to be in Europe, either on business or on the run; nobody could say for certain.

What is it about "The Garbage Pail Kids Movie" that has made the people responsible for it so shy?

The critics hated it, but that was to be expected.

Who above the age or IQ of 10 can appreciate the humor of a scene where Foul Phil dazes a bad guy with his breath and Windy Winston polishes him off with a point-blank gust of gas? Is it possible for a person to have tastes broad enough to embrace both Meryl Streep and Messy Tessy, whose nose seems to be manufacturing rubber cement?

This is not even a well-made bad movie. The makeup for the seven Garbage Pail Kids may be better than anything you'll see on your porch at Halloween. But only if the kids in your neighborhood aren't taking their work seriously.

Following "Harry and the Hendersons" and "Jaws the Revenge"--starring a shag-rug Sasquatch and a rubber shark, respectively--"The Garbage Pail Kids" completes the worst run of creature features in memory.

But it is a waste of a full-sized person's time to quantify a movie like this without the aide of representatives from its preteen target audience. So, to get a proper scent of this thing, I escorted two Garbage Pail Kids cards' fans--a 10-year-old and an 8-year-old--and kept an accurate record of their laughs.

The 10-year-old laughed out loud once, when Messy Tessy sneezed and showered a barrel of popcorn over a theater audience.

The 8-year-old, who has decorated her dresser with the likes of Muscular Molly and Unzipped Zack, didn't laugh once.

"I thought it was dumb," she said.

"It wasn't gross enough, " her brother complained.

To be fair, there were a couple of kids somewhere in the theater who became hysterical whenever Windy Winston assumed the position.

"The Garbage Pail Kids Movie" opened a week ago in 374 theaters in eight markets, including Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. The New York Daily News critic gave it three stars (out of four), but the rest of the reviewers agreed generally with Duane Byrge's assessment ("crude, disgusting and amazingly stupid") in the Hollywood Reporter, and with The Times' Kevin Thomas, who said "They should have kept a lid on 'The Garbage Pail Kids Movie.' "

Atlantic's Rabinovich acknowledged that the movie is a hard one to market. Because it appeals to young children, it is necessarily a family movie. But not many parents are going to load up the station wagon and head for a gross-out festival (have I mentioned Valerie Vomit's upset stomach and Nad Nerd's uncontrollable bladder?) just because it's rated PG.

"The Garbage Pail Kids Movie" was a bad idea to begin with. The cards are hoots. They are well illustrated and often very clever, the first chance your kids may have to sample the joys of puns and black humor. Besides, how can anyone who grew up on the insanity and tastelessness of Mad Magazine and National Lampoon deprive their children of the current equivalent?

But these characters do not work in live action. It's one thing to see a static illustration of snot. It's something else to see the stuff move.

So far, "The Garbage Pail Kids Movie" is not packing them in. It opened in 374 theaters and took in just $661,512 during its first weekend.

CBS-TV is the licensee next in line to exploit the Garbage Gang. The network launches its animated Saturday morning Garbage Pail Kids cartoon show next month. We'll soon know whether these disgusting characters can give the merely blue Smurfs a run for it.

Meanwhile, Topps Chewing Gum is about to release its 10th series of Garbage Pail Kids cards in packs of Topps gum, and the only things Topps executives are keeping the lid on are their lips.

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