Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Film Appreciation - Some Like It Cold

Film Appreciation heads to the beach as Cody Hamman discusses 1989's Weekend at Bernie's.

As soon as I started going to see movies in the theatre (Beetlejuice might have been the first one I saw in a theatre, at age four), I was hooked. I wanted to go to the theatre as often as possible, and endeavored to see any movie I had even the slightest interest in on the big screen. Whenever someone in my life went to see a movie without me, it would enhance my interest in that film - for example, my brother is ten years older than me, so when I was a little kid he was out doing stuff with his friends and girlfriends. I remember that he went to see Arthur 2: On the Rocks in July of 1988, and I could only wonder what it was like to see that at the theatre. I remember when he went to see the Sylvester Stallone movie The Specialist in 1994. And I remember that when we were on a family outing one day in 1989 he mentioned, "I want to see Weekend at Bernie's." I didn't know what he was talking about at the time, but I was intrigued. Still, I didn't see Weekend at Bernie's in the theatre. I wasn't able to watch it until it hit VHS, by which time I was probably six years old, and I was very curious to see this movie because my brother had mentioned wanting to see it months earlier. I'm not sure if he had gone to see it, I can't remember, I think he might have. But what I have remembered for thirty-one years was the moment when he said he wanted to see the movie. That's how fascinated I was by cinema already, at such a young age.

Once Weekend at Bernie's reached home video, I watched it many times. I watched it on VHS, I caught it on cable, I sat through many viewings that were the choice of my older sister's son, who loved the movie when he was a kid. (He's only five years younger than me.) Now I own a copy of it on DVD, and the viewings are still continuing to this day. 

This movie has been a rather steady part of my life for three decades now, and it wasn't the only time director Ted Kotcheff and writer Robert Klane had an impact on my life; Kotcheff previously directed the action classic First Blood, while Klane had written the Howie Mandel comedy Walk Like a Man, another childhood favorite of mine. 

For Weekend at Bernie's, Klane crafted a story that centers on the neurotic Richard Parker (Jonathan Silverman) and his wiseass friend Larry Wilson (Andrew McCarthy), who work for an insurance company and have been tasked with entering all of the accounts into the new computer system. While doing this, they discover that someone has stolen two million dollars from the company - and when they report this finding to their boss Bernie Lomax (Terry Kiser), Bernie rewards them by inviting them to spend the weekend at his beach house on Hampton Island.

Unfortunately for Richard and Larry, Bernie is the one who stole that two million dollars. He also has a connection to mob boss Vito (Louis Giambalvo), and he asks Vito to have his hitman Paulie (Don Calfa) kill Richard and Larry at the beach house and make it look like a murder-suicide. Luckily for Richard and Larry, Bernie has been sleeping with Vito's girlfriend Tina (Catherine Parks), so Vito isn't interested in having people killed for him. He tells Paulie to kill Bernie instead.

By the time Richard and Larry arrive at the beach house, Bernie has already been killed, his death staged to look like a drug overdose. While they're freaking out and trying to reach the police, people start flooding into the place - it turns out that the people who hang out at Hampton Island are a close group that likes to do a lot of partying, especially at Bernie's. Our hapless leads try to tell people that Bernie is dead, but they just think he's wasted. Then Larry gets the idea that they should just roll with the idea that Bernie's still alive so they can enjoy the weekend, putting forth that it would be like granting Bernie's final wish, since he wanted them to have a good time at the beach house. (Larry isn't yet aware that Bernie wanted him dead.) Richard objects at first... but then he realizes that Gwen (Catherine Mary Stewart), the insurance company intern he has a crush on and took on a disastrous date, is also spending the weekend at the island. This weekend could be his chance to win over Gwen, so he agrees to pretend that Bernie is alive and see it through.

They don't have much chance to have fun, though, because they soon discover the murder plot - and begin to fear that the killer is still coming after them.

Richard and Larry have to move Bernie around a lot over the course of the weekend, and in these scenes Kiser proves to be so skilled at physical comedy, it's almost shocking that Weekend at Bernie's and its sequel are the only films where he was asked to show off this ability. Watching this, you'd think Kiser was a major comedy star. It's not easy to make a dead man seem hilarious, but he pulled it off, flopping himself around while never changing the goofy expression on his face. It never looks like he's really alive to make the movements, he is completely convincing at being dead, and yet manages to be funny at the same time. It's quite a performance to behold.

Coincidentally, the lead female role in Walk Like a Man had been played by Friday the 13th Part 2 heroine Amy Steel, and Kiser is another Friday the 13th alumni, having played the despicable Dr. Crews in Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood. He was not funny in that movie. He shares scenes with Catherine Parks as Bernie's lover Tina, and Parks had played one of the victims, Vera, in Friday the 13th Part III. As a huge fan of the Friday the 13th movies, it's fun for me to see Kiser and Parks together in a different movie. Parks also shows off some comedy skills in this movie, playing her character in an over-the-top manner and giving her an amusing accent.

Calfa was also in one of my favorite horror movies, The Return of the Living Dead, although he looks so different in Return than he does in this movie that it took me years to realize it was the same actor in both. Calfa is very funny here, as his hitman character gradually loses his mind as he keeps trying to kill Bernie and keeps being fooled by Richard and Larry's antics into believing that Bernie is surviving everything that happens to him.

Silverman and McCarthy had good chemistry together, and are both amusing and likeable in their roles. Richard is usually tense, Larry tends to go with the flow, and it's entertaining to watch them bounce off each other and exchange dialogue. 

Weekend at Bernie's has a running time of 98 minutes, but it feels shorter because it's so enjoyable and moves along at such a good, quick pace. It's packed with funny lines and sight gags, and is very easy to watch over and over. It doesn't get a lot of respect, many dismiss it as low-brow nonsense, but I think it's a comedy classic. 

No comments:

Post a Comment