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Times Staff Writer

They should have kept a lid on “The Garbage Pail Kids Movie” (citywide).

Seven of the friendly but gross little creatures have made it off those bubble-gum cards and onto the screen, but the children who adore them deserve lots better than this limp morality tale about the folly of judging people by appearances.

Producer-director and co-writer (with Melinda Palmer) Rod Amateau has imagined the seven kids--Valerie Vomit, Ali Gator, Greaser Greg, Foul Phil, Nat Nerd, Windy Winston and Messy Tessie--as being preserved in green slime in a garbage pail in the dark, crowded antique shop belonging to a kindly retired magician (Anthony Newley), who has a likable 14-year-old assistant (Mackenzie Astin). For reasons never made clear, Newley regards taking off the lid of that pail to be as dangerous as opening Pandora’s box, but the pail is knocked over when Astin is attacked by bullies.

In no time, Astin is operating a basement sweatshop in which the kids are turning out glitzy costumes for the girl of his dreams (Katie Barberi), an older woman of 16 who’s an aspiring fashion designer in the flash-trash mode--and the girlfriend of the No. 1 neighborhood bully (Ron MacLachlan). By golly, Astin does learn that beauty is skin deep--that the kids, for all their offending personal habits and homely looks, are the good guys and that Barberi is a shallow opportunist exploiting his feelings for her.


Astin comes across as a perfectly nice, sweet teen-ager and Newley is wasted in an ill-defined part, but Barberi manages to suggest some twinges of conscience beneath a hard-as-nails surface. The biggest problem is with the kids themselves, which are played by little people with electrically operated fake heads stuck on top of them. The kids have very little expression, and their voices seem disembodied. As a result, “The Garbage Pail Kids Movie” (rated PG but suitable for small fry) seems so much cheap fakery at a time when breathtakingly convincing special effects have become the rule rather than the exception.

Worse yet, there’s no real comic glee in the kids’ gross personal habits. Production designer Robert I. Jillson and set dresser Dean A. Grebe have stocked Newley’s antique shop with goodies more appealing than anything else in the entire film.


An Atlantic release of a Topps Chewing Gum production. Executive producers Thomas Coleman, Michael Rosenblatt. Producer-director Rod Amateau. Co-producers Michael Lloyd, Melinda Palmer. Screenplay Palmer, Amateau. Supervising producer John Strong. Camera Harvey Genkins. Music Michael Lloyd. Production designer Robert I. Jillson. Costumes Judie Champion. Garbage Pail Kids Animatronics John Buechler and Mechanical Makeup. Special effects coordinator Ted Koerner. Stunt coordinator Gray Johnson. Film editor Leon Carrere. With Anthony Newley, Mackenzie Astin, Katie Barberi, Ron MacLachlan, J. P. Amateau, Marjory Graue, Leo V. Gordon.

Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes.

MPAA rating: PG (parental guidance suggested; some material may not be suitable for children).