Film Reviews

Stiff and Nonsense

Remember Vic Hitler, the narcoleptic comic in Hill Street Blues? Terry Kiser received an Emmy Award nomination for his portrayal of the comedian with the penchant for nodding off just when he had an audience rolling in the aisles.

Like most of the quirky characters who populated Hill Street, Vic Hitler was inspired lunacy, a product of droll writing and clever acting. Unfortunately, those are precisely the two qualities that are completely lacking from Kiser's latest film, Weekend at Bernie's II.

But don't blame Kiser, who reprises his role as the wandering dead man with the perpetual smirk. The film's rare funny moments turn on the actor's talent for physical humor. He's not going to make anyone forget Harold Lloyd or Buster Keaton, but he's no stiff (sorry), either. As he did in the original Weekend at Bernie's, Kiser makes the corpse more fun to watch than either of the film's living leads.

The sequel picks up a day after the original left off. Upon depositing their ex-boss Bernie Lomax's body at the morgue, junior executives Larry Wilson and Richard Parker report to work, only to discover they've been fired. Jonathan Silverman as Parker and Andrew McCarthy as Wilson developed something approximating chemistry in the first film, but apparently they exhausted all of their charm (to use the term loosely) in the process.

This time out Silverman is whiny, nerdy, and dull, and McCarthy plumbs new depths of insufferability.

The insurance company they worked for suspects the two dullards of helping Lomax embezzle two million dollars and has hired a P.I. to tail them and recover the loot. Meanwhile, the mob has contracted a voodoo priestess from the U.S. Virgin Islands (that well- known voodoo stronghold) to turn Bernie into a walking zombie so he'll lead them to the money. At least the hocus pocus angle gives the production an excuse to relocate from the mean and overexposed streets of New York to the emerald hills and sapphire waters of St. Thomas. The black magic woman entrusts the task of reanimating Bernie to a pair of bumblers even more hapless than Parker and Wilson. They just happen to be black, just happen to dress like pimps, and just happen to play off each other like a bad parody of Bill Cosby and Sidney Poitier in Uptown Saturday Night. It's burlesque humor rooted in racist stereotyping and it's a pathetic excuse for comedy even by this film's wretched standards.

Standards? Did I say standards? My mistake. Writer-director Robert Klane, who scripted Bernie's first Weekend, will stoop to any level to attempt to get a laugh. His biggest mistake is his decision to ambulate Bernie, who only moves when there's music playing. Kiser concocted something he calls the "Bernie Shuffle" for the part. In death as in life, Bernie leads with his pelvis and follows with his head, which bobs idiotically, like one of those little toy dogs with the spring necks that used to peer out the rear windows of cars. But he's a lot funnier when he's prone, seated, or trying to stand than when he actually locks into an upright position. Unfortunately, no one explained that to Klane. He contrives ridiculous situation after ridiculous situation to get Bernie up and about.

It's hard to believe this is the same Robert Klane who authored the cult classic Where's Poppa? Then again, the screenwriter's recent "credits" include Fire Sale, The Man with One Red Shoe, National Lampoon's European Vacation (another letdown of a sequel), and Folks, so there's plenty of precedent for his underachievement. At least Vic Hitler got a laugh or two before he crashed.

Another smirking, brain-dead zombie appearing in his second film is Pauly Shore in Son-in-law. Shore plays Crawl (the character's name also describes the hackneyed story line's pace), a retro-hip college duuuude who spends Thanksgiving break with a wholesome coed's Walton-like family. It's your basic glorified sitcom premise stretched into a 90-minute feature counting on a popular TV personality's appeal to carry it. Saturday Night Live alumni used to specialize in this sort of thing, cashing in on their fleeting cachet and laughing all the way to the bank. Hell, Dan Aykroyd's made a career out of it.

The film's best punchline is that it took six people to write the script. Here's how Son-in-law came into being, directly from the production notes supplied by the filmmakers:

"One afternoon while [producer Peter] Lenkov and writer Patrick J. Clifton were watching Shore's MTV show, Totally Pauly, they had a brainstorm. At the time, Clifton's sister was dating a guy of whom the family did not approve. Lenkov recalls, 'We were having a great time watching Pauly and then we started joking around. I said, "Can you imagine what would happen if someone brought Pauly Shore home?!" The next thing we knew, we and Susan McMartin were developing a screenplay and pitching it to Pauly's agent.' Later, Lenkov was sent a tape of Totally Pauly in which Pauly was visiting a farm.

"'I was in Cosmo, Minnesota, on a pig farm,' Shore remembers. 'A female viewer had invited me out to spend the day. There I was slopping the pigs and eating dinner with the family. I was completely out of my element. It was great.'

"'Pauly is the consummate fish out of water. Put him in any situation outside of L.A. and he'd be out of place,' says Lenkov. 'The thing I love about Pauly is what you see is what you get.'"

Exactly. Why shell out $6.50 to see Shore do his shtick in a movie theater when you can be Totally Pauly'd by MTV? To put it in lingo even Crawl and his friends on the farm should understand, why buy the cow if you're getting the milk for free?

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Todd Anthony
Contact: Todd Anthony