A movie like Weekend at Bernie’s isn’t supposed to be taken seriously. It’s a movie about two guys who parade their dead boss around for two-thirds of the run time to give the impression he’s alive.
It was directed by Ted Kotcheff, who made the first First Blood movie and written by Robert Klane, who wrote the dark comedy classic Where’s Poppa? One might scratch their heads and wonder how two people (who made better movies) could make a movie that is so foolish and juvenile.
Well, it’s not that bad of a movie. If you look closer, it is the perfect parody of the 1980s and the decade of greed and decadence.
Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman, both of them famous thanks to the Brat Pack movies and MTV Generation, play Larry Wilson and Richard Parker, respectively, two young men in their early 20s who work low-level jobs at an insurance company in New York City.
The movie begins with them walking to the office on a Sunday through many happier people. Richard still lives with his parents but believes that doing some extra work will help put him in management’s good graces. Larry, who lives, in a substandard apartment building, and believes that the best way to get ahead is to brownnose and hope for the best.
When Richard finds the company has been making the same payments on the death resulting in the loss of a lot of money, he and Larry take it to their boss, Bernie Lomax (Terry Kiser), who compliments them on their fine work and invites them to his island beach house over Labor Day Weekend.
There’s just one problem. Bernie has been embezzling the money with help from his Mafia connections. When he asks a mob boss, Vito (Louis Giambalvo) to kill Richard and Larry, Vito decides to have Bernie killed because of the slip-up.
Bernie is also having an affair with Vito’s girlfriend, Tina (Catherine Parks), so mob hitman, Paulie (Dan Calfa) is sent to whack Bernie. Paulie arrives at the beach house early and gives Bernie a lethal injection and puts drugs in his pocket, making it look like Bernie died of an accidental overdose.
When Richard and Larry arrive, they discover Bernie but don’t have time to report his death as many of the island’s elite people come into Bernie’s beach house and begin consuming his alcohol, food and socialize.
The criticism is why couldn’t anyone notice Bernie is dead, but that’s the point. People are so wrapped up into hooking up at Bernie’s place and getting wasted, they’re too busy to notice. He has a huge beach house that isn’t locked. People come and go. A young woman in a bikini walks in and grabs the keys to his boat.
In another scene, two young guys with big muscles give Bernie’s body a quick massage but seem to be more interested in the younger women across from them. Other presume Bernie not responding is a form of communication. Even the drugs in his pockets are taken by an acquaintance. The lethal dose from Paulie leaves a relaxed, pleasant look on his face.
Bernie has lived a life of excess while he was alive that many people are eager to associated with him. I’m reminded of the scene in Network where Howard Beale says during a live news broadcast that he is going to kill himself yet hardly anyone notices it. Even Larry doesn’t want to immediately notify the police as he’s afraid it’s going to ruin his weekend. He said he bragged about being invited to Bernie’s to his colleagues at work.
Richard seems to remain the only rationale one who feels the police need to be notified but the problem is Bernie has set him and Larry up being that they could be considered suspects. But good for them that Paulie contacted Bernie on the phone before his death and their conversation was recorded, which Richard and Larry hear.
Finally realizing that Bernie was the one who was embezzling and defrauding the company, they decided to make a run for the main land with Bernie as their companion as he told the hitman not to kill them while he was around. This leads to slapstick as Bernie’s body is the result of a lot of brutal beatings such as when they attempt to drive his boat but his body falls off and is dragged behind hitting the channel markers.
In reality, rigor mortis would’ve already set in and trying to move Bernie around would’ve been difficult as his skin color would change but it’s just a movie. Actually, rumors have persisted it’s based on an urban legend that after John Barrymore died, his friends, including W.C. Fields and Errol Flynn, took his body out for one last hurrah night on the town before his funeral. Blake Edwards also referenced this in his Hollywood satire S.O.B.
Paulie is called back to the island after a mobster observes a drunk Tina having sex with Bernie’s body, off camera of course. And Calfa does some good humor moments as he keeps thinking he’s killing Bernie over and over while he still sees his body looking like it’s alive.
Catherine Mary Stewart plays Gwen Saunders, an object of Richard’s attention, who works at the insurance company for a summer job, and unfortunately isn’t given much to do. If anything else, she’s there to represent someone born of privilege who doesn’t believe in self-indulgence. There’s a subplot about Gwen wanting to thank Bernie for her summer job which she got through her parents’ connection. The fact that she’s grateful while other people would’ve expected a job shows how different she is.
Richard discovers Gwen at Bernie’s party after having a bad date with her and tries to make up, which is why he doesn’t initially notify police. And Gwen seems uneasy around all the people who are indulging in Bernie’s materials. I think it’s to have another character in the movie who isn’t obsessed with attention and greed.
It’s not a great movie, but it’s not a bad movie, unlike its sequel. Oddly, the film’s production company, Gladden Entertainment, had a similar history as its founder, David Begelman had been involved in an embezzlement scandal at Columbia Pictures, in the 1970s and allegedly tried to embezzle funds out of Judy Garland.
It’s also interesting to note that both Kiser and Calfa were born in 1939 but Kiser has outlived Calfa by five years as he passed way in 2016. Calfa and Stewart also played in The Return of the Living Dead and Night of the Comet involving zombies and Kiser was in Friday the 13th Part VII where Jason Voorhees is resurrected once again.
Yes people are still greedy and there is still materialism, but the 1980s was the decade it become popularized and since this movie was released in the summer of 1989, it was the perfect kiss-off to the decade especially when you consider many Hollywood movies of the era relied on high concepts like this.