8 Heads in a Duffel Bag

8 Heads in a Duffel Bag. Orion Pictures Corporation 1997.

Before watching the movie:

It occurs to me that I’ve only seen Joe Pesci in Home Alone. So here’s another movie he made spoofing his typecasting as a criminal, only a much more hard-edged one than the family friendly Wet Bandits. He plays an actual mobster who just happens to get caught up in hijinks because his bag accidentally got switched with someone else’s bag at the airport.

I think that this kind of poster isn’t one to make stuff up for the symbolism of it, so maybe there’s an actual vulture involved in the hijinks? That seems as wacky as the tone that seems to be implied.

Before watching the movie:

Tommy Spinelli gets hired by the hitmen who wacked eight of a crime boss’s enemies to courier the duffel bag with their heads across the country to him in San Diego. He sneaks the duffel onto the plane as a carryon, but an altercation with the flight staff causes the oversized bag to be checked into the hold. At the airport, Tommy grabs a black duffel as soon as it drops onto the carousel, but by the time he realizes he’s grabbed the wrong bag, Charlie, the aimless college student whose bag he has, has already been collected by his girlfriend and her parents and swept away to a hotel in Acapulco. Suspecting nothing, Charlie doesn’t open the bag until he’s at the hotel, throwing his vacation into chaos as he tries to hide and dispose of the heads while worrying about if the rightful owner of the bag is looking for him. And in fact, having gotten his name and school from Charlie’s effects, Tommy flies to the school to press Charlie’s buddies into helping him find the lost heads. They don’t know anything more specific than “gone to Mexico”, but that’s not going to stop him from using any means necessary with them to fix his blunder before the mob boss runs out of patience, and meanwhile the hitmen have decided to take matters into their own hands.

This makes a little more sense than what I was expecting, but I got the idea from the synopses I’d seen that Tommy’s bag was full of other organized crime stuff and got swapped with a bag of innocently transported heads being transported as medical specimens or anthropological artifacts, causing him to have to improvise a sleight of hand with the authorities to get out of trouble for the heads while also not getting his own contraband apprehended. I think that would’ve been a pretty fun story, if complicated. Instead, he’s not overwhelmed, the guy who swapped bags with him is, and Tommy himself is pretty collected about the situation until he’s almost out of time, a serious mobster in the wrong genre much like Harry starts Home Alone as.

Pesci is the big name and the face on the poster, but the movie much more belongs to Andy Comeau’s 90-minute panic. Pesci, David Spade, and Todd Louiso are off in the B-plot until the third act. Dyan Cannon is also pretty memorable in most of the scenes she’s in as Charlie’s girlfriend’s mother, but she gets so frenzied from seeing the heads in Charlie’s bag that she spends most of the movie sedated or knocked out for her own sake.

I was expecting the movie to be a little darker, but I’m fine with the wacky antics that don’t shy away from grittier elements while neither letting them own the movie nor actually spoofing them. They’re just a part of the world of the movie, and I’m fine with almost any part of the human experience being used as tools in the toolbox for a story in almost any genre. The darkest it really threatens to go is Tommy explaining to the boys that he’s going to torture them until they tell him what he wants to know, but then the next time we see them, it’s a very comedy kind of torture. Death threats are cheap, but nobody ever seems to be in real danger. Even the heads themselves aren’t very gory, and could have been any unsavory Macguffin.

I can understand this being difficult to classify, but I think that tonally, it’s a PG-13 comedy that gets an R rating on technicalities. People who expect it to be darker will be disappointed. It’s not adult, it’s not sophomoric, but it is mature. Just some wacky fun dabbling in somewhat more coarse subject matter.

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