“Why don’t we just pretend he didn’t die? Just for a bit!”
The Scoop: 1989 PG-13, directed by Ted Kotcheff and starring Andrew McCarthy, Jonathan Silverman, and Terry Kiser
Tagline: Bernie may be dead, but he’s still the life of the party!
Summary Capsule: Two dumbwits engage in tomfoolery by pretending their host is alive. When, in fact, he is not.
Justin’s rating: So… how do they explain away the maggots and the smell? Just curious.
Justin’s review: I’ll give it to the ’80s Hollywood mindset: they were willing to attempt to make any plot work, no matter how insane or ridiculous. Launch kiddies into space on the shuttle? Mission accepted! Time-traveling phone booths? Sure, why not! The Cleveland Indians becoming a decent team? Hey, sounds far-fetched, but they made it happen!
So by the time they got to the bottom of the decade — and before heading into the 1990s, which would make ’80s fashion seem quaint and restrained by comparison — a studio suggesting that movie be made about two guys pretending a corpse is alive wasn’t anything unusual. It was just another day, and we were along for the drug-induced ride of our lives.
No one, least of all me, is going to step up to you with a straight face and proselytize that Weekend at Bernie’s is the movie you need to save your soul. Perhaps, and this is stretching reality just a wee bit, Weekend At Bernie’s might be the movie you need to save a boring Saturday afternoon on cable TV. If you like it, chances are it’s a guilty pleasure that you really can’t defend.
Weekend At Bernie’s is a breezy dark comedy that revolves around one big prop: a corpse most people don’t realize is dead. Deep, yes. The corpse in question is Bernie, an insurance company bigwig who steals from the till, tries to have two employees killed when they discover it, but ends up murdered himself by the mob for his carelessness. This all goes down on a vacation resort island, where everyone is mostly drunk or in the throes of partying, and thus don’t notice that Bernie’s not… performing as usual.
The unwitting employees are Larry (Andrew McCarthy) and Richard (Jonathan Silverman), who are invited out to the island by Bernie as “houseguests.” Movie comedy law states that if two guys are buddies, then one of them must be very stuck-up (Richard) and one a free-wheeling self-centered ego-maniac (Larry). After their discovery of Bernie’s demise, they choose to not call the police for a variety of reasons, but mostly this: The longer Bernie stays “alive,” the longer their vacation lives on.
This is a flick that most people see once, if not multiple times, in their lives, yet don’t have much of an opinion about it other than noting the oddity of a party-happy dead guy. It’s dumb and not really as funny as you may remember, but serious criticism is deflected by the whacked-out premise. How can you seriously denounce a movie like this for not having a deeper plot or better acting? You can’t. Just shrug, accept the slapstick and pratfalls and double-takes, and try not to choke when you see what people actually thought was hip to wear back then.
Kyle’s rating: Weekend at Bernie’s will save your immortal soul. Believe it!
Kyle’s review: Weekend at Bernie’s is another movie I’ll always treasure as a wonderful comedic gem I discovered at the dollar movies that I was able to walk to when it opened up near my house. It’s not too clever, it won’t really change your life, and all momentum absolutely grinds to a halt for the guy-brings-girl-home-to-wonderful-apartment-that-is-actually-his-parents’ sequence. Thankfully, though, the other 90% of this film is fantastically funny, at least to those whose fancies it strikes. Obviously it’s not for everyone, but for people who can dig it, it’s pretty fun.
I guess I have to consider this a “guilty pleasure,” just like another Andrew McCarthy film, Mannequin. Also just like that film, the enjoyment seems to be derived from the viewer’s (perhaps mutant) ability to discount cinematic attributes like “plausibility” and “consistent characterization” and “basic physics,” and focus exclusively on “charm” and “corpse humor.” I would advance the theory that most, if not all, Jonathan Silverman films are like that. McCarthy is great, though.
But, yeah, much like Die Hard can be easily summed up as “barefoot cop fights terrorists in a high-rise,” Bernie’s is “two doofy guys have to pretend their dead boss is still alive so the mob guys who killed the boss don’t also kill them even though they probably wouldn’t anyway because they just wanted to kill the boss.” I love high concepts!
Beyond McCarthy and Silverman (who are both solid as usual, especially McCarthy as the horny slacker who doesn’t mind using a dead body as a way to score chicks), Terry Kiser is great as the titular Bernie, who is a drugged-out ******* alive and a zen-calm cool dude dead (corpse Bernie reminds me a lot of living Phil Jackson, in quite a few ways). The various girls don’t make much of an impact, though that girl Silverman’s character is into is definitely charming. Not charming enough for me to look up her name, but charming nonetheless.
I just can’t bear to see WaB totally discounted as a trashy movie. Like Sorority Boys and Mannequin, there is an audience out there for which Bernie’s is a “great” movie. For them, the humor clicks, the actors are likeable, and the premise is so wild that you can’t help but love it.
Besides, for the mileage I get out of referencing McCarthy’s brilliant attempt at faking blindness to fool an angry hitman, I own Weekend at Bernie’s my life. Absolutely fantastic! Highly recommended… if dig you this sort of thing!
- Bernie does not always appear dead; he occasionally blinks his eyes, etc.
- Andrew McCarthy was asked to read the script to think about playing the part of Richard. When he read it, he loved the part of Larry, and got that instead.
- Terry Kiser (Bernie) suffered a few broken ribs during filming due to all the pitfalls and stunts of playing a dead man.
- Bernie’s house at the beach was not on “Hampton Island” at all, but actually at a nature preserve in North Carolina. It was built just for this movie, with the agreement that it would be torn down right after shooting and the land returned to its pristine condition.
Larry: What kind of a host invites you to his house for the weekend and dies on you?
Larry: Why don’t we just pretend he didn’t die? Just for a bit!
Larry: How do you like that? The guy gets laid more times dead than I do alive.
If you liked this movie, try these:
- Weekend at Bernie’s II
- At First Sight