*½/**** Image A- Sound A-
starring Andrew McCarthy, Jonathan Silverman, Catherine Mary Stewart, Terry Kiser
screenplay by Robert Klane
directed by Ted Kotcheff
by Travis Mackenzie Hoover Film comedy ceased to be the realm of the inventive and the stylish some time ago--about 30 years ago, to be precise, after wit and flair gave way to the Brightly-Lit Comedy (BLC). In order to domesticate the laffer, the architects of the BLC invented a lighting style that a) ensured that every stick of poorly-chosen furniture was impossible to miss, and b) destroyed the possibility of shadow play or other flourishes that might call attention to themselves. The BLC flooded the set with white light, banishing nuance and paving the way for stuff like Weekend at Bernie's--a black hole from which not even humour itself can escape.
BLC is not merely an approach to aesthetics--in straightening out narrative kinks, it smoothes out the visual ones as well. In Weekend at Bernie's, our stick-figure heroes are Richard, the Shy One (Jonathan Silverman), and Larry, the Party Animal (Andrew McCarthy), with no further shading than what practically amounts to toe-tags. Both are poor, both work for an insurance company, and both think they've hit the big-time when they discover a $2-million accounting fraud. Because their boss, Bernie Lomax (Terry Kiser), is the one who's been siphoning off the cash, he invites the pair to his beach house, where he's arranged to have them bumped off. But Bernie's mob masters decide to hit him first for his sloppiness, leaving The Shy One and the Party Animal to figure out creative uses for Bernie while they dodge hitmen.
The hook of a dead man posing as a live one is worthy of a Peter Cook/Dudley Moore opus, or an early Mel Brooks vehicle--anything, in fact, that is not a BLC. The BLC's approach, you see, is that nothing is wrong; the use of Bernie's body is not deliciously morbid, as it ought to be, but rather an occasion for broad slapstick. Worse, it's an excuse to hold loud and ugly parties at Bernie's loud and ugly modernist pad. As the BLC never met a tiger it couldn't tame, it soft-pedals any potential unpleasantness by holding constant parties with people lacking taste, so as to reassure us that we're all friendly people here and we're all having a good time. Where great comedy from Chaplin to Python has rubbed our faces in things we fear, the BLC's approach is 'Crisis? What crisis?'
Terry Kiser proves to be the lone example of someone working to stylistic advantage. He's frighteningly good as the dead Bernie, managing to give the corpse's shuffling and arm-flopping a decent amount of personality. Beyond that, though, it's strictly blandness, from the casting of the leads to the tedious romantic subplot between The Shy One and co-worker Gwen (Catherine Mary Stewart). The rationale for that last bit is that we must mate the most presentable of the principals with a domestic match to allow for maximum aw-shucks while The Party Animal provides "balance" as a mildly rowdy opposite. Alas, true rowdiness is not on the BLC agenda--it thinks only of the horrible reassurance that has smothered us since the demise of the '70s.
Snatching the title away from previous rights-holder Artisan, MGM reissues Weekend at Bernie's on DVD in a fullscreen/1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen flipper whose image is reasonably clean and bright. Although it's a shade off in fine detail, it's possible that a BLC has never looked this vivid--which is not to say that it actually looks vivid, just that the presentation goes a long way towards compensating those dissatisfied with Artisan's sub-par 4:3 letterbox transfer. The 2.0 Dolby Surround audio is similarly fine, perhaps recorded a tad low and definitely restrained but eminently creditable all the same. The film's trailer rounds out the disc.
98 minutes; PG-13; 1.85:1 (16x9-enhanced), 1.33:1; English Dolby Surround; CC; English, French, Spanish subtitles; DVD-10; Region One; MGM