Movie review: ‘Weekend at Bernie’s’

I have to say that I like slapstick comedy. It’s a most magnificent form of comedy. From an entire performance such as 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” – click here for my review), slapstick done right is truly 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.” I’m sure you remember it not only for its Brat Pack co-star, but everyone seems to be able to recall this “weekend.” Oh, and here’s my most strenuous advice: Don’t bother watching the sequel. I already made that mistake – it is so bad it is not be believed.

‘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 Stewart)

YOU CAN’T KEEP A GOOD (DEAD) MAN DOWN

(NOTE: I expanded this review with additional opinion and trivia and the updating of links on March 30, 2019.)

One-joke movies are difficult to pull off, but, without a doubt, they can be good. Take “Liar, Liar” for example (click here for my review). It’s funny, it is creative with the one premise and you enjoy the film from beginning to end. “Weekend at Bernie’s” doesn’t near approach being as good as “Liar, Liar,” but it has is creative and fall-down funny moments and I’m sure you will enjoy it.

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First let me write that you’ll get a little annoyed with the skittish-as-a-Chihuahua Andrew McCarthy. There’s only so much of his jittery energy you can take in the movie. However, his work here is leavened by the straight-man character played by Jonathan Silverman, who is the longsuffering straight man not only to McCarthy, but also a dead man. Along with Terry Kiser, who plays the deceased 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 grasping and mischievous (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, a plan is hatched to kill off McCarthy and Silverman.

Except, of course, it doesn’t work out that way. It turns out that the mob boss wants to also get rid of Kiser for very personal reasons, but that only opens the floodgates of hilarity as the dead guy keeps popping up all over the place thanks to McCarthy’s and Silverman’s ingenuity.

The story moves from the city out to the Hamptons on Long Island and some scenic beach shots and a bunch of ways you can keep pretending that a dead guy is alive (using a staple gun to put his toupee back on is the best touch). In the end, the dead guy’s dead, the bad guys lose and the corpse, well, pops up one final time.

As they say, you can’t keep a good (dead) man down.

Now, let’s take a look at some of the cast …

  • McCarthy as “Larry Wilson” does his usual “Brat Pack” type acting here and there’s nothing special from him. I liked McCarthy about the same in “ Elmo’s Fire” but a little more in “Mannequin” (click here for my review). His dramatic work in “Less Than Zero” was a nice change-of-pace for him. 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). McCarthy is very versatile as he was a villain on an episode of TV’s “Monk” and has directed episodes of “Orange is the New Black.”
  • 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 an actor can experience. 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 all but the most strenuous – such as when he “water skis”). 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 and is somewhat tied down, but 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.

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 temporarily parked his body is nothing short of 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.” It’s one of the absolute most choice lines in the film both delivered and funny. Parks has also been in the sci-fi thriller “Looker” with Susan Dey (click here for my review). Parks had a long hiatus from Hollywood from a video credit in 1993 to a small part in a film in 2017.
  • The female lead is worked by Catherine Mary Stewart, who plays “Gwen Saunders.” Stewart’s most expressive emotion is the shock of finally accepting that Kiser is dead. Ah, well. It was never intended to be a career builder. Parks does a much better job in this one and Stewart was much better in the neat sci-fi thriller “Night of the Comet” (click here for my review) and “The Last Starfighter.”

As to the rest of the supporting cast … yawn. I would have like to see more of the completely unknown Nello Tare, who is a drunk stumbling into one party and possibly a little more of veteran character actor Don Calfa, who plays the longsuffering hit man “Paulie.” Only the “Bratty Kid” gets the perfect amount of time to be the best supporting player.

  • Calfa does a commendable job as he continues through the latter half of the film never understanding why he didn’t kill Kiser as the body keeps popping up. Calfa has also been in “The Star Chamber” and “ Doolittle.” Calfa often played mobsters and was “Joey ‘Snot’” in “Sharkskin” before his death at 76 in 2016. I liked him best as the twisted neighbor of Dudley Moore in “10” (click here for my review).
  • Playing the “Bratty Kid” is Jason Woliner, and he keeps covering Kiser’s body with sand on the beach in several scenes and even sneaks into the house and ultimately flips off the boys. Woliner dropped acting with only five credits and has now turned to directing (including three episodes of “Parks and Recreation”).

Director Ted Kotcheff started off in TV like so many other big-screen directors and obviously graduated to movies. He made an early mark with the outstanding original “Fun with Dick and Jane” with George Segal and Jane Fonda (click here for my review). He also did the uneven “North Dallas Forty” (click here for my review) and the original “Rambo” flick “First Blood.” His most extensive credit is as the executive producer of 263 episodes of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” episodes. Kotcheff hasn’t notched a credit as producer or director since 2014.

So, grab a copy of “Weekend at Bernie’s” 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 in 1989), “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.” Here are the other films from 1989 that I’ve reviewed:

Assorted cast and film notes (via IMDb.com):

  • The working title of the film was “Hot and Cold.” Jeeze. Thank goodness someone came to their senses.
  • Skeet Ulrich, who was in “As Good as it Gets” and “Scream,” has a bit part here as an extra. At the time, Skeet was vying to be what Leonardo DiCaprio became, but never managed to fulfill expectations.
  • Kotcheff has a small part when he plays “Jack Parker” (Silverman’s dad in the film).
  • McCarthy read for the character ultimately played by Silverman, but he liked the “Larry” character better. Huh? McCarthy in the straight role? I guess someone was on drugs that day.
  • The stunt double for Kaiser reportedly suffered injuries, most notably to his ribs during the skiing sequence in which the “body” hits channel markers.
  • Finally and directly from IMDb.com: “Catherine Parks (Tina) and Terry Kiser (Bernie) are both Friday the 13th series alumni. Parks starred as Vera Sanchez in Friday the 13th Part III (1982), and Kiser appeared as Dr. Crews in Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988).”

© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2014, 2019.
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