Movie review: ‘Weekend at Bernie’s’

wI have to say that I like slapstick comedy. From an entire performance such as one by the “Three Stooges” or even a scene or two in a film (watch the big movie studio fight at the end of “Blazing Saddles”), slapstick is funny. Add in a dead guy who someone else is trying to pass off as alive and you’ve got a winner called “Weekend at Bernie’s.” Don’t bother mentioning the sequel since I already made that mistake.

‘Weekend at Bernie’s’
(1989; 97 minutes; rated PG-13; directed by Ted Kotcheff and starring Andrew McCarthy, Jonathan Silverman, Terry Kiser and Catherine Mary Stewar)

NOT GREAT CINEMA, BUT WHO CARES? IT’S FUNNY!

One joke movies can be tough, but they can be good. Take “Liar, Liar” for example. It’s funny, it is creative with the one premise and you enjoy the film from beginning to end. “Weekend at Bernie’s” isn’t quite as good as “Liar, Liar,” but it has is creative moments and you will enjoy it.

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While you’ll get a little annoyed with the skittish-as-a-Chihuahua Andrew McCarthy, his work will be leavened by the more serious role played by Jonathan Silverman. Along with Terry Kiser, who plays the dead title character, the trio is the epicenter of everything in this one.

Weekend at Bernie’s” is the story of two ambitious young men – one serious (Silverman), one funny (McCarthy) – who are convinced that they’re headed to the top of an insurance company when they uncover a scheme that has been defrauding the firm. Uh, oh. The head of the firm is the actual culprit (he’s in cahoots with a mob boss) and since neither of them are looking to get caught so the plan is to kill off McCarthy and Silverman.

Except, of course, it doesn’t work out that way. The mob actually wants to get rid of Kiser most of all (and does) but that only opens the floodgates of hilarity as the dead guy keeps popping up all over the place.

McCarthy as “Larry Wilson” does his usual “Brat Pack” type acting here and there’s nothing special from him. He was also in “St. Elmo’s Fire,” “Mannequin” and “Less Than Zero.” When an actor’s career is defined by “Weekend at Bernie’s” as well as “Mannequin,” he gets a thumbs up here despite his poor execution of the craft (you’ll believe the craft was executed if you watch McCarthy in the sequel).

On the other hand, Silverman is cast perfectly as “Richard Parker.” He easily conveys the character’s professionalism set on a foundation of naiveté and earnestness. Silverman is up to the task of the role and would be the best here, but for Kaiser’s physical comedy. He was also in “Caddyshack II” (click here for my review), “Brighton Beach Memoirs” and TV shows including “Psych.”

Now I come to the real star of the show: Terry Kiser as “Bernie Lomax.”

Through half the film he doesn’t have a line and his body is supposedly controlled by McCarthy and Silverman, but he handles it so well and conveys for what must be one of the toughest kind of roles that actors face. He is just nasty enough as the crooked businessman in his speaking parts to show his ability. Then you get the physical comedy (he did some and owes the rest to a stunt double who got beat up in shots where you don’t see close-ups of the star). Kiser reanimated in the “Weekend at Bernie’s” sequel and was also in “The Pledge” as well as quite a number of TV series including “Baretta,” “WKRP in Cincinnati” and even “Blossom.”

The best part of the film is the three of them together. The boys must use Kiser’s body to make people believe he’s alive so they can get away from the Hamptons alive themselves (“Bernie” has a gorgeous seaside residence). Kiser’s propped up poolside “waving” to passersby on the beach (a string tied to his hand); he’s put aboard his boat, falls out and then “skis” into several buoys; and doesn’t have to say a word at a party to be a part of negotiating a deal for a Porsche or being playful with a woman. The boys even use a stapler to secure his toupee to his head after it comes off at one point.

Speaking of women, Catherine Parks plays “Tina,” who is the mob boss’ mistress and the object of Kiser’s affections (this is the biggest key why he has to be killed). Parks’ scene where she goes into his bedroom where the boys have hidden him is great. You don’t see anything, but she comes down with a very satisfied strut and when asked how it went, she purrs, “Never better.” She has also been in the sci-fi thriller “Looker” with Susan Dey.

The female lead is by Catherine Mary Stewart, who plays “Gwen Saunders.” Silverman pursues her but her most expressive emotion is the shock of finally accepting that Kiser is dead. Parks does a better job here and Stewart was much better in the neat sci-fi thriller “Night of the Comet” and “The Last Starfighter.”

So, grab a copy and sit back to enjoy it again (I cannot believe if you’ve read this far that you haven’t already seen it). You’ll have some fun.

For all its comedy and elevation to pretty much cult status today (plus it debuted the day after the Fourth of July), “Weekend at Bernie’s” was only the 39th ranked film at the domestic box office in 1989 as it brought in $30.2 million, according to Box Office Mojo. It brought in just over twice its $15 million budget but was far behind the No. 1 film that year … “Batman” at $251.1 million. Other comedies that easily finished above it were “Look Who’s Talking” and “Ghostbusters II.”

Assorted cast notes (via IMDb.com):

  • Skeet Ulrich, who was in “As Good as it Gets” and “Scream,” has a bit part here as an extra.
  • Don Calfa plays the longsuffering hit man “Paulie,” who does a commendable job as he continues through the latter half of the film never understanding why he didn’t kill Kiser. Calfa has also been in “The Star Chamber,” “10” and “ Dr. Doolittle.”
  • Director Ted Kotcheff has a small part when he plays “Jack Parker” (Silverman’s dad in the film).
  • Probably the best supporting actor is Jason Woliner, who plays “Bratty Kid.” He keeps covering Kiser’s body with sand on the beach in several scenes and even sneaks into the house and flips off the boys. Woliner dropped acting with only five credits and has now turned to directing (including three episodes of “Parks and Recreation”) where he has 20 credits.

© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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