Fox // 1989 // 98 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Erich Asperschlager // June 4th, 2014
"What kind of a host invites you to his house for the weekend and dies on you?"
Nostalgia is a funny thing. It can make grown men argue about the canon of cartoons designed to sell toys, and it can make otherwise smart folks believe movies they remember from the '80s are comedy classics. Weekend at Bernie's is famous because of its concept: two schlubs pretend their dead boss is alive to extend their beach vacation. As a comedy, it's not very good. It is, however, available on Blu-ray.
Co-worker best friends Larry (Andrew McCarthy) and Richard (Jonathan Silverman) are struggling on the lower rung of New York society, working weekends while rich and powerful people like their boss, Bernie (Terry Kiser), jet off to the shore in sports cars. They see an opportunity to better themselves when they discover an accounting irregularity that could save their company millions of dollars. The pair rushes to tell Bernie, not realizing he's the one who's been stealing the money. Bernie invites Larry and Richard to his beach house, intending for his mob partners to kill them, unaware that mob boss Vito (Louis Giambalvo) plans on killing Bernie instead for sleeping with his girlfriend (Catherine Parks). Larry and Richard discover their murdered boss, but instead of calling the cops, they pull off an elaborate ruse -- pretending Bernie is still alive, first to get a taste of the good life and later to save themselves from the hit man (Don Calfa) who's looking for them.
The problem with Weekend at Bernie's is that it's just not funny. The movie is best when it makes fun of the shallow self-absorption of the'80s. Larry and Richard come up with their corpse-puppet scheme during a house party, as one rich partygoer after another has a one-sided chat with Bernie before moving on to someone else. It frames the joke within a point of view. Unfortunately, the class struggle theme is abandoned pretty quickly in favor of sight gags and dumb action.
The movie takes its time setting up the dead boss gimmick, saving Bernie's murder until a third of the way through the movie. Director Ted Kotcheff and writer Robert Klane reserve the opening half hour to set up the clueless friends, the embezzlement scheme, Larry's co-worker crush, and the jealous mobster who puts the hit on Bernie.
Leads Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman turn in energetic '80s performances, throwing themselves into the physical comedy. Those gags become more important as the movie goes along, especially after Larry and Richard realize they are being targeted by a killer. What starts as a fun-time party ruse becomes a matter of life and death, building to a beach house showdown between the goofballs and a mob assassin.
To give credit where it's due, Kotcheff and Klane do a lot of solid storytelling work. Bernie's begins with Larry and Richard walking to work together. By the time they get to the office we know everything we need to about them. Richard is punctual, fastidious, and risk-averse. Larry is a lazy schemer who always takes the easy way out. It's efficient character work, even if the characters have no depth.
Weekend at Bernie's tries to balance the guy pal dynamic with a love story of sorts. Catherine Mary Stewart does what she can with a thankless role. She gives Gwen more personality than the "pretty Summer intern" she's introduced as. She's smart, and doesn't take any guff from Richard, who goes from shy nerd to sociopathic liar by the end of their first date. The lies make sense once he and Larry are hiding a dead body, but the only reason I can come up with for Richard telling Gwen his parents were killed is to set up a joke about a plane crashing into a train. For the rest of the movie, Gwen is brought in periodically to forgive or get mad at Richard.
It's a shame that the movie?s only female lead has less to do that a guy who dies thirty minutes in. It helps that the dead guy turns in one of the movie's best performances. Terry Kiser is a standard sleazy '80s boss when Bernie is still breathing. After he's been killed, his non-acting is a thing of beauty. It takes skill to stay still. It takes even more to do so while being dragged, flung, propped, and generally manhandled. It's almost enough to make you forget that real corpses suffer from rigor mortis in more than the genitals.
Weekend at Bernie's is a mediocre movie that barely makes an argument for itself on Blu-ray. The 1.85:1/1080p transfer is bright and colorful, but with a generally soft look that barely registers as HD. I don't know if this movie needs to look better than this, but don't expect anything revelatory. The Andy Summers-scored soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio. Dialogue is crisp and "Hot and Cold" is a peppy tune, but as with the image quality it smacks of a quick catalog release. To make it even more underwhelming, there are no bonus features on the disc besides the theatrical trailer.
Weekend at Bernie's scratches a certain nostalgic itch, but it works better in memory than in the moment. The central plot device allows for some passable physical gags, and the leads are pleasant, but Bernie's is a disposable movie with few laughs. Hopefully nostalgia is enough for you, because this Blu-ray release has almost nothing else.
(sniff) What died?
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13