Weekend at Bernie’s

Weekend at Bernie’s.
Gladden Entertainment 1989.

Before watching the movie:

I never considered before that this is one of those movies that everyone references and nobody really goes beyond the log line. I couldn’t say much more about this movie than the poster does. Two hapless guys puppet their dead boss through a weekend to avoid getting blamed for his death. I don’t think I even knew it had to do with a mafia hit until I tried to read up on it a little. I think there’s a scene where they use him to withdraw money from a bank. That’s all I know.

I’m surprised I haven’t heard of any of these actors. I would’ve thought somebody involved was a household name in comedy, even if just the corpse.

After watching the movie:

Larry and Richard are office drones at an insurance company barely making enough to live in New York. As part of their project “reprogramming” computer accounts, they discover a policy that paid out four times for one death, which appears to be a two million dollar mistake. Taking it directly to the head of the company, Bernie Lomax, he tells them that it looks like someone’s embezzling, they should keep it quiet and work with him to figure out who it is at his beach house in the Hamptons over the weekend, and then goes to his mob partner Vito and begs him to kill Larry and Richard to hide his embezzlement. Vito reluctantly agrees, then when Bernie leaves, tells his hit man to instead kill Bernie, because he’s getting too slack with his crimes and with his affair with Vito’s girlfriend. Just before Larry and Richard’s ferry arrives, the hitman surprises Bernie with a lethal injection of heroin, leaving him propped up in his desk chair wearing sunglasses and a goofy grin. Larry and Richard eventually discover that the reason Bernie is so unresponsive is because he’s dead, but the parade of party guests that show up while they’re panicking never notice this. While Richard wants to get as far away from the situation as possible, Larry proposes they stay and enjoy the weekend in luxury without potentially getting implicated in Bernie’s death by reporting it. Since the cute summer intern Richard only just got up the nerve to talk to the week before Labor Day turns out to be there, Richard agrees. But when a mob associate sees Bernie apparently alive, Vito sends his hitman back to finish the job the next day, and Richard and Larry find an answering machine message concerning Bernie’s hit on them, and now believe that there’s a killer coming to murder them as soon as they’re separated from Bernie, leading them to figure out how to constantly be with his dead body as they try to escape the island.

I’m amazed how much characterization Bernie gets for someone who spends most of the movie dead. He’s just a crooked CEO we’re not supposed to miss, but he’s the most memorable personality in the movie until he dies, and probably also what we learn about him from his rich schmoozing friends. Richard and Larry are a funny duo, but they’re pretty stock uptight shy loser and selfish party loser. They carry the movie well, but Larry gets them into trouble, Richard panics, Larry gets them out of trouble is the cycle of the movie.

There must be some times when Bernie is a lifelike cast of the actor’s head, but the acting and editing do a great job of not breaking while ridiculous things are done to him. Getting his head held up by the neck under his jacket while his legs are double three-legged race-tied is something I’d do to an actor, vacuuming sand off his face maybe not.

This seems like a surprisingly small budget movie for something that shot exteriors in New York and on a resort beach and speedboat crashes. It probably helps a lot that there’s a very small cast, though there are a few scenes with a ridiculous amount of extras. Maybe for once I’m not factoring in inflation very well, but $15 million seems cheap for what this movie accomplishes. I guess that’s the strength of having four leads I’ve never heard of.

This is a classic because it’s just about perfectly executed. The pacing especially works with machine precision. Of course it did well enough to make a sequel and of course the sequel was something nobody wanted. If there’s intended to be commentary on how ridiculous rich people are, it probably comes out more strongly today than it did at the time, and the 80s were already a time when people were critical of how big business made outsized wealth from nothing. If this movie doesn’t stay in circulation forever, it will be because an inevitable remake either completely trashed its legacy or managed to outshine it.

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