Anchor Bay // 1988 // 93 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // April 10th, 2001
"Let's get into trouble, baby!"
Tapeheads is one whacked out film. Brought to us via the strange minds that produced Repo Man, Tapeheads is proof that they just don't make comedies like they used to. Starring the talents of John Cusack (Say Anything, High Fidelity) and Tim Robbins (The Sure Thing, The Shawshank Redemption), Tapeheads was a tank at the box office (due to little publicity and a small theatrical run) and a sought after gem on video. Thanks to Anchor Bay we now have a widescreen version of a comedy that's definitely one "swank" movie.
Ivan (Cusack) and Josh (Robbins) are a couple of security guards who are fired from their job after throwing a mega party and getting busted by their boss. That's the bad news. The good news is that these two dim bulbs are video freaks. After being canned, they decide to try their steady hands at making music videos (ah, remember the days when MTV actually played music on their station?). They title their operation "Video Aces" and begin their technical journey making a commercial for Roscoe's Chicken & Waffles restaurant (which has to be seen to be believed). From there the sky is the limit as they end up working for Mo Fuzz (Don Cornelius from "Soul Train") of Fuzzball Records. They get a job directing a few videos "on spec" (which basically means they put up the dough). Mo lets them know what brings in the money: tits and ass. Josh and Ivan gladly comply.
The two video freaks also attempt to speak to a couple of old time soul singers (Sam Moore and Junior Walker) who used to perform under the name "The Swanky Modes." These men are true heroes to Josh and Ivan, but the new music scene has relegated them to performing in the taverns and bars where Josh and Ivan hang out. The boys might have an idea on how to resurrect the duo's singing career...
Meanwhile, Josh and Ivan continue working, taking jobs to film events such as funerals and weddings. They receive free rent in old building from Belinda (Katy Boyer), who quickly becomes Josh's love interest. After a mix up on the television station RV (the film's equivalent to MTV), the boys quickly become hot property...that is, until a valuable and potentially scandalous video tape falls into their laps: A local politician (Clu Gulager, The Return Of The Living Dead) is in trouble when he is videotaped dressing as a fairy princess and being wrapped in Christmas lights (and noooooo, I am not making this up, though I do wish I had thought of it first). That tape gets into Josh and Ivan's hands and goofy comedy ensues with only two men to save the day...the tapeheads.
I rented the movie Repo Man not too long ago and thought it was absolutely idiotic. I had heard so much about it that I thought it would end up being some hysterical undiscovered gem. Instead it was too offbeat and strange for my tastes (and that's saying a lot). When I got Tapeheads and popped it into my player, I assumed I as in for the same type of movie, but to my surprise I was way off. Tapeheads is almost just as offbeat and strange as Repo Man was. Maybe because I was a film student Tapeheads is more accessible for me. Or maybe I just was in a better mood than I was watching Repo Man. Either way, Tapeheads is a gas. How can you not like a film where the main character drinks candle wax while trying to impress a girl at a bar? Who can't relate to that? Umm...not that I ever drank candle wax while trying to impress a girl.
Err...let's move on.
Cusack and Robbins are delightful as Ivan and Josh. Cusack reminds us why he is one of the funniest and quirkiest actors in movies today. With his pencil-thin moustache and slicked-back hairstyle, he's like a cheap version of John Waters. His character is set in his own little world, trying hard to achieve respect that will never come (at least not with that moustache). Robbins plays a more geeky character who is shy and meek, but has a rip-roaring streak in him. Robbins has shown that he has the stuff of great comedy (revel in his outlandish appearances in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me or Nothing To Lose). And then there's Clu Gulager, playing a would-be President who likes to get spanked while wearing a tutu. Give that man a cookie for being game enough to act like this over the age of fifty.
The script is loosely put together, at times acting like an intelligent comedy and then veering off into Naked Gun territory. The music supplied by the likes of Fishbone, King Cotton and Dead Kennedys is a fantastic example of how much a movie depends on its soundtrack. And the final dance number by The Swanky Modes will leave you cheering for more! Or, if you're a big N'Sync fan, this will be the type of disc you'll want to flush down the toilet along with your dead pet goldfish. Tapeheads is filled with so many scenes that are complete comedy originals. Take for instance the videotaping of Merlin Hinkel's living will. Merlin, an old, sick man, is lying in a hospital bed doing his will for his wife and kids. Ivan and Josh can't understand why he won't give them "more" as an actor. Merlin reminds them that he's not an actor; Ivan doesn't care. The way the scene is built around the absurd is spectacularly funny.
Tapeheads is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic and is, unbelievably, excellent. For a pretty obscure film for the late '80s this is a very well preserved print. Anchor Bay has given special care to make sure that there are relatively no problems with the image. There was no grain or speck to be seen and digital artifacting was practically non-existent. Colors were bright with no fading, blacks solid and thick. An excellent transfer by Anchor Bay! Also included is the original Dolby 2.0 mix that originally accompanied Tapeheads in its original release.
Anchor Bay has also done great work on the soundtrack as well. Audio is presented in a newly created 5.1 Dolby Digital mix and sounds terrific. Since this is often a music-based film, it's great to hear songs by Devo and The Swanky Modes cranked up and surrounding the viewer. Dialogue was without distortion or hiss and the mix is just aggressive enough to be subtle and not overbearing. Bravo to Anchor Bay on another fine job!
Tapeheads includes a few interesting extras. First off is a commentary track by writer/director Bill Fishman, executive producer Michael Nesmith (yes, THAT Michael Nesmith...from the band The Monkees) and production designer Catherine Hardwicke. The track is fun and light, filled with witty insights and fun nostalgia. The thing I didn't know was that the film had a deeper meaning. As Bill Fishman describes it: "The film is about integrity, chasing your dreams and not giving up." Yes kids, if you're looking for inspiration, you will find it in spades in Tapeheads, the feel-good movie of the year!
Alas, there is no theatrical trailer (often included on many Anchor Bay releases), but we do get a free CD single attached to the inside of the DVD case. The single "Ordinary Man" is by The Swanky Modes (Junior Walker and Sam Moore). It's an upbeat tune that mixes in soul/jazz and '80s rock. A fun extra that I will allow to replace the theatrical trailer.
Finally, there is a collectible booklet with liner notes by film journalist Paul Davis, including some history about the promotion of the film and why it initially bombed in theaters. Also appearing in the booklet are photos from the set and film itself.
Tapeheads is certainly not going to be to everyone's tastes. Though the performances are very funny, there is a sophomoric quality to the film that might turn other viewers off. This is certainly not high art. The script is loosely put together, so if you're looking for a film with nullifying continuity you won't find it in Tapeheads. The extras are a bit weak, though for a film this random we're lucky to have even gotten the commentary track.
An excellent comedy from 1988 that has to be seen to be believed. The performances by Cusack and Robbins are fun and light, the music a blast, and we get an anamorphic transfer to boot. What more could you ask for in a DVD? Well, okay, a few more extras...but I'll let that slide this time. Tapeheads is fun for those of you with an off-kilter sense of humor and if you enjoy watching grown men in women's clothing. For around $25 this is a little pricey, so keep your eyes open for a good bargain at Best Buy.
Found innocent on the grounds of insanity. A free-flowing movie with randomly funny laughs and a hot soundtrack from the '80s!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 1988
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Commentary Track by Bill Fishman, Michael Nesmith and Catherine Hardwicke
* Bonus CD single "Ordinary Man" by The Swanky Modes (Sam Moore and Junior Walker)
* Collectible Booklet