Weekend At Bernie’s (USA, 1989)
Title: Weekend at Bernie’s
Release Date: 1989
Director: Ted Kotcheff
Andrew McCarthy: Larry Wilson
Jonathan Silverman: Richard Parker
Catherine Mary Stewart: Gwen Saunders
Terry Kiser: Bernie Lomax
Don Calfa: Paulie, Vito’s Hit Man
Catherine Parks: Tina, Vito’s Girl
Eloise DeJoria: Tawny
Gregory Salata: Marty, Vito’s Assistant
Louis Giambalvo: Vito
Run-Time: 97 mins.
Studio: Gladden Entertainment
Let us now pause for a moment to praise the greatness of … corpse desecration jokes.
Because, when you get right down to it, this late 1980s farce-comedy starring Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman isn’t so much a movie as it is an effort to find new ways to subject a mannequin to a series of increasingly inventive humiliations to reach its 97-minute running time.
And that really isn’t so much a knock as an explanation. It is, really, its genius. Because “Weekend at Bernie’s” may well be the example, par excellence, of that much-maligned sub-genre that, for a lack of better term, we’re going to call “Guy Cinema.”
The fellas reading this post know what I’m talking about. They’re the Farelly Brothers flicks. Or “Airplane,” or “The Three Stooges” — in essence, any movie where your girlfriend/wife/sister/mother/aunt gets up and leaves the room with a disgusted shake of their head, leaving you and your buddies to howl like baboons for an hour-and-a-half at the increasingly stupid onscreen hijinks.
In 20 years of watching this movie, I’ve never had a member of the fairer sex make it to the end credits. In fact, when I told my amazingly patient wife that I’d be writing about this movie for “The Cineaste’s Lament,” she looked at me with something between pity and revulsion, and said, “You’re on your own,” and then went off to knit.
So there I was, alone in the living room, somewhere around midnight, laughing, as I always do, when the title character’s body goes caroming off a buoy somewhere in Long Island Sound.
The plot of “Weekend at Bernie’s” barely matters, but we’ll sum it up anyway: Two working stiffs, Larry and Richard, (McCarthy and Silverman) discover that someone at the NYC insurance company where they toil is embezzling. They present their findings to their boss, Bernie Lomax (Kiser), who then invites the pair out to his beach house on Long Island to investigate further.
Little do they suspect of course, that Bernie is doing the embezzling on behalf of the mob. But the mob’s had enough of Bernie, not least because he’s had to lack of foresight to sleep with gangster Vito Giambalvo’s moll. The mob whacks Bernie instead. Larry and Richard discover that Bernie intended to pin the embezzling on them. So they decide to pretend that he’s alive to keep the mob from killing them.
From there, it’s a race against time — and decomposition — as our heroes try to escape from the island where they’re supposed to be holidaying.
There’s a subplot featuring Richard’s fumbling efforts to woo a summer intern, played by Catherine Mary Stewart, who, for reasons that we suspect had to do with union rules, seemed to feature as the love interest in just about every comedy of the period. And the slob/mensch dynamic between McCarthy’s and Silverman’s characters makes for a nice comedic contrast.
Kiser picks up what may have been the easiest pay-day in the history of American cinema, since, for 90 minutes, he’s required to do little else but wear sunglasses and a wry grin and put up with sight gags that find him (or his rubber dummy) repeatedly buried, soaked, dragged or dropped from greater or lesser heights.
Improbably, the movie even birthed a sequel that saw Kiser’s corpse reanimated as a zombie. Naturally, it had none of its predecessors admittedly juvenile charms — though that didn’t stop me from staying up late one night to watch it on cable.
So, fellas, the next time this one comes on cable, call your friends, banish your significant others from the room and pause, once again, to praise the greatness that is the Guy Film.