FORGET "DICK Tracy." The real fun is with "Gremlins 2: The New Batch." This is not a joke. "G-2" is a devilishly, hysterically, cacklingly, subversively funny picture that builds and builds until it literally self-destructs.

Unfortunately I can't explain that one any further without giving away one of the movie's biggest, most inventive surprises. But it has to do with those evil little gremlins and, in terms of the usual relationship between the audience and the movie screen, the effect is practically extra-dimensional.

The fun and flames lead to one man, Joe Dante, the director of the original (1984) "Gremlins." Dante, who since the first "Gremlins" has delivered some appalling work ("Innerspace," "The 'Burbs"), redeems himself -- if making a funny movie about some of the sickest, nastiest little creatures you've ever seen is redeeming yourself. He not only brings back the perverse spirit of the first movie, he one-ups it, maybe even two-ups it. "Gremlins 2" is "Gremlins' " worst nightmare.

In this endeavor, he is more than ably supported by special effects meister Rick Baker, who breathes sinister life into the green creatures. They look like the hideous offspring of a threeway procreation between a snake, a pterodactyl and a bat.

It's six years after all that trouble in Kingston Falls. Sequel returnees Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates now work in a fully automated, steel-and-glass skyscraper , part of the empire of Daniel Clamp (no-lipped John Glover), a powerful real-estate developer who wants as much of New York as he can grab. But when Gizmo, a fuzzy mogwai creature, turns up in the building (at a gene-splicing lab headed by Christopher Lee!), the empire's days are numbered. All it takes is a little water.

Dante and scriptwriter Charlie Haas dig into American culture with sardonic relish, unearthing Donald Trump, Ted Turner, colorization, Muzak, Miss Piggy, cable television, genetics experimentation and TV-age movie reviewers, to name just a few. Dante's catalogue-like appreciation for the movies also gets full indulgence, with amusing tweakings of everything from "It's a Wonderful Life" to "Apocalypse Now." There's even a reference to "Marathon Man," when Zalligan finds himself trussed up in a dentist's chair, with a murderous gremlin leering over him with a drill. "Is it safe?" the gremlin asks.