Weekend at Bernie’s

January 6, 2011

Terry Kiser: a signature role

The predicament at the core of Weekend at Bernie’s can be grasped if you understand that Bernie is dead. This puts a damper on the weekend from the start.

That’s the basic idea in this new summer comedy, which takes its black humor from Bernie’s demise. Bernie (played, alive and dead, by Terry Kiser) heads a large Manhattan corporation. He invites two young go-getters in his employ, one a tidy yuppie (Jonathan Silverman), the other a slovenly nerd (Andrew McCarthy), to his beach house for Labor Day. For these guys, getting an invite to Bernie’s is like being called “up to the mountain top.”

Bernie means to have these two schmucks killed by underworld friends, because they’ve discovered Bernie’s profit-skimming system. But the underworld types decide to kill Bernie instead, which they do. So when our lads arrive, Bernie is beyond even his usual weekend comatose state. He’s really, well, dead.

Our guys, once they figure out that Bernie has indeed left this world, realize that, for a variety of reasons too complicated to explain here (though Robert Klane’s script works hard to make it seem logical), it’s best to pretend that Bernie is still alive. At least for the weekend.

So, the guys dust Bernie off, prop him up, and make sure his toupee is watertight. (A staple gun does the trick.) Trouble is, Bernie’s friends on the beach have the habit of dropping in unannounced, and Bernie himself is prone to disappearing, only to wash up later.

This movie gets some laughs out of its tasteless situation, even though the concept seems to take forever to set up. Klane has obviously used some classic comedies as his inspiration, not to mention Hitchcock’s The Trouble with Harry, in which the trouble with Harry was that he was dead (but given to getting in people’s way). Unfortunately, the director, Ted Kotcheff, is not famous for his light comedic touch, and he probably won’t be any more famous after this film is released.

More damaging is the casting. Silverman is okay, but McCarthy is unconvincing. And together they have no chemistry. Mary Catherine Stewart, who plays Silverman’s budding romance, neither adds nor subtracts anything to the movie. How could she? Her role is window dressing.

Terry Kiser, it must be said, does bravura work as the corpse. At least someone connected with this movie has left a mark: Kiser will probably be hereafter known as the actor who “you know, played that dead guy in that stupid summer comedy.”

First published in the Herald, July 6, 1989

A signature 1980s film, this one. I mean it has Mary Catherine Stewart in it, which pretty much sets the era in stone. I know Terry Kiser has made a lot of movies and TV shots since this film, but he is still the dead guy from Weekend at Bernie’s, right? And I insist that he was, in fact, very skillful in a tricky part. (Also fondly remembered: his multi-episode arc on “Hill Street Blues” as a hapless stand-up comedian named Vic Hitler.)