Hollywood shouldn't be faulted for its predilection for sequels. They've been around since the beginning of literature. An early one was "The Odyssey," which picked up where "The Iliad" left off. Fortunately, Homer didn't have to deal with money-hungry producers or his epic might have been called "Iliad II: The Voyage Home."
Last year -- 1989 -- saw a record number of big-screen sequels. James Bond, Indiana Jones, Captain Kirk, the Ghostbusters, and other favorites returned in new adventures. Half were a welcome sight; the other half quickly wore out their welcome.
All the big ones are out on videocassette. Just remember: the postman doesn't always ring twice.
"Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" (Paramount). The best sequel of the year was, amazingly, scripted by the writer of the worst sequel of the year, Jeffrey Boam of "Lethal Weapon II." Of course, the movie's real "auteurs" were co-producers George Lucas and director Steven Spielberg, who astutely cast Sean Connery as Harrison Ford's scholarly dad, spurring the perfect last ride for their whip-wielding hero. This one has it all: nasty Nazis, a beautiful blonde, non-stop stunts and wicked wit.
"Star Trek V: The Final Frontier" (Paramount). Critics slammed William Shatner's directorial debut with inexplicable malice, so first-time viewers might not recognize this likable, touching, well-acted, often clever and exciting space adventure. Shatner (who also got story credit) bravely emphasizes the friendship between Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock and Dr. McCoy -- the Three Musketeers of science-fiction -- against a secondary plot that has a mystical fanatic (Laurence Luckinbill) seizing the Starship Enterprise. Jerry Goldsmith's stirring music from "Star Trek -- The Motion Picture" makes a belated and triumphant return.
"Ghostbusters II" (Columbia). Like "Crocodile Dundee II," this is a numbingly dull, painfully unfunny and mercenary follow-up to one of the great films of the '80s. The team responsible for the original hit -- writers Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis; producer-director Ivan Reitman; stars Aykroyd, Ramis, Bill Murray and Sigourney Weaver -- ripped themselves off. "Ghostbusters" had hilarious, almost cool, moments (remember Bill Murray's sexist E.S.P. test?) independent of the great special effects. The sequel fills huge gaps with random scenes (a ghostly Titanic, the Rick Moranis-Annie Potts romance, Peter MacNicol's arbitrary role) and a grating rap soundtrack by Bobby Brown. Rent the original.
"Licence to Kill" (MGM). The James Bond series is still not back on track from Roger Moore Cartoon Land, but the last entry is a bridge closer to Connery Country. As 007, rugged, reliable Timothy Dalton goes AWOL to kill the Central American drug kingpin (a colorful Robert Davi) who butchered his best friend. Some of the old Bond wit ("He disagreed with something that ate him"), Dalton's intelligent portrayal, clear-cut action sequences and a pair of stunning starlets (Carey Lowell and Talisa Soto) help compensate for the rough edges. The climax, a duel between two monster trucks, ranks with the best in the series. This one airs Sunday, Tuesday and Friday on HBO.
"Lethal Weapon II" (Warner Brothers). Mel Gibson owes his stardom to a sequel ("The Road Warrior"). That doesn't excuse his presence in one of the worst films ever made. There isn't space enough to mention half the dreck hurled at the viewer by producer-director Richard Donner. Some examples: Gibson's "aw-shucks" goodnight to Patsy Kensit, in whose company he'd just killed two helicopters-ful of thugs; Gibson's climactic straight-jacket escape two days after he'd demonstrated the same trick on a bet; and South African diplomats that would have embarrassed wartime Hollywood Nazis, including an attache who machine-guns Gibson in front of Danny Glover, then declares, "Diplomatic immunity!" before Glover blasts him. Don't say you weren't warned.
"Fright Night II" (Columbia). The original "Fright Night" came out of nowhere to become the sleeper hit of 1985. Young writer-director Tom Holland fashioned a scary, funny, sexy and exciting vampire movie that played by the rules and avoided slasher-film gore. The hacks who made this sequel thought scary meant endless tracking shots of future victims. That funny meant wacky vampires ("You're supposed to bite her on the neck!"). That sexy meant bland actress Julie Carmen, better suited to be Victim Number One than Vampire Princess. And that exciting meant meaningless special effects and red-herring dream sequences. Even Roddy McDowall, who stole the first movie as ham actor Peter Vincent, Vampire Killer, can't save this one. Get Terence Fisher's "Horror of Dracula" instead. Or watch it Wednesday on Showtime.
Luis Aguilar is a free-lance writer.