Weekend at Bernie’s I & II

My recent reading of Andrew McCarthy’s memoir, Brat: An ’80s Story, put me in the mood to watch some McCarthy movies. Rather than pull something obvious like Less Than Zero or Pretty in Pink off my DVD shelf, I threw a few bucks at eBay and picked up copies of Weekend at Bernies and Weekend at Bernies II. The first because it’s been ages since I saw the film and I think it’s becoming a more forgotten 80s movie, and the second because not only does McCarthy write it off in his memoir, but I had very hazy memories of seeing it at all when it came out in 1993, or even afterward on home video.

For the uninitiated, the first film revolves around two characters being invited to their bosses beach house for the weekend, where he intends to have them killed. He ends up being killed first, however, so when they arrive at the beach house and find him dead, they have a choice… report it to the police or have a fun weekend of partying, by pretending he’s still alive? Comedy ensues. Which might leave you wondering where on earth the second film can go, story-wise, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

The first movie is a deeply 80s comedy which feels quaint by today’s standards on so many levels, but still holds up. I think it’s the general darkness of the comedy at hand – come on, two guys have adventures with a corpse for half the film – off-set against the pastel colours of the ‘greed is good’ era that helps this along. It’s such a strange, goofy little movie. Weirdly, the second movie trades on even blacker humour – Bernie’s corpse reanimated by voodoo in the Caribbean – but the result is nowhere near as satisfying. The writing certainly doesn’t help. Characters drop in and out of the story, most notably Claudia who helps our ‘heroes’ Larry and Richard for a good part of the film and doesn’t even get a farewell scene. Even Henry and Charles – two of the voodoo queen’s servants who have been present through most of the film – get a strange farewell as a pair of goats. See it to believe it.

While I remember the first film doing decent box office and its poster being a mainstay in video stores around 1990, the second film I barely remember, as I mentioned earlier. It’s almost as though what made us laugh in the late 80s was a bit played out almost five years later as we headed towards the mid-1990s. It doesn’t seem like many years, but the world and everything in it was changing a lot.

And what of McCarthy, pretty much my whole reason to be watching these films over two consecutive evenings? He’s not bad at all, and actually has good moments in both films, using physical comedy and facial expressions to great effect. Something you notice a lot in the first film, however, is that the Richard role – played by Jonathan Silverman – is actually a more ‘McCarthy’ role. He’s the more sensible of the two. He is the one trying to date the pretty girl in the first film. Even the dialogue sounds like things McCarthy should be saying. So of course it’s quite interesting to see McCarthy play a zany, goofball type instead. He doesn’t always pull it off, but when he does it’s so unexpected, it’s actually quite fun to watch. Although when we get near the end of the second film and the blood of a virgin is required, is anyone buying that one of the Brat Pack, starting to look his age (27 in the first film, 31 in the second), whom all the ladies swooned for during at least half the 1980s, is a virgin? A strange moment, in a strange film, although the way McCarthy plays it, you still almost buy it.

These are both films I have no idea when I will watch again in my life, if ever. That sounds so final, however, there’s simply so much to see in the world, I’m not sure I’d get a lot of value out of spinning these again, at least any time soon. Maybe the first one would make some interesting background noise during an 80s inspired party, or similar. Otherwise, I’m done with them both. Fun while it lasted and the first one is well worth watching if you’ve never seen it and have a thing for 80s nostalgia.

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