Tapeheads

I’m happy to announce that I could detect no trace of socially redeeming value in Tapeheads, a rude, noisy movie destined for the midnight-movie circuit. But that doesn’t mean it’s all bad.

In fact, I found quite a bit to enjoy here, in the Repo Man vein. Tapeheads follows two video entrepreneurs who rise to the top: Ivan (John Cusack) is a slick-backed fast-talker with his eye on the main chance; best pal Josh (Tim Robbins) is the more distractedly creative of the two. They call themselves the Video Aces.

When they decide to conquer the video world, they know they’re going to have to start at the bottom. And the bottom is filming living wills and funerals for families, and composing a rap-music commercial for a fast-food chicken restaurant.

Ivan and Josh think they’ve got their big break when they get a gig filming the metal group the Blender Children. Unfortunately, they are kicked off the set. Fortunately, the Blender Children are killed when their studio is hit by a falling chunk of Skylab, which makes our heroes’ footage extremely valuable. Unfortunately, when the video is broadcast on national TV, some footage of a funeral is erroneously inserted over the music. Fortunately, this is considered a visionary work in the music-video world and Ivan and Josh become the hottest producers in the business.

This turn of events gives some sense of the movie’s gleeful taste for the bizarre. But it does not even include the politician (Clu Gulager) who enjoys the company of sheep, a video record of which falls into the hands of the Aces. Nor does it include the Aces’ attempt to resurrect the career of the Swanky Modes, two soul singers who have fallen on hard times (they are played by a couple of R&B classics, Junior Walker and Sam Moore). Nor does it include the roster of oddballs who flit by in cameos: Soul Train host Don Cornelius, Connie Stevens, Doug McClure, “Weird” Al Yankovic, Ted Nugent, Lyle Alzado, Jello Biafra – even Mary Crosby, Bing’s daughter.

Obviously, director Bill Fishman and producer Peter McCarthy (who wrote the script together) have gathered together as much of the flotsam and jetsam of pop culture as they can and dumped it all into their movie. So the film’s effectiveness is predictably slapshot.

The executive producer of Tapeheads is Michael Nesmith. He’s an appropriate choice, because aside from being former Monkee and the producer of Repo Man, Nesmith was a pioneer in putting music and film together before MTV was a blip on the horizon.

Cusack and Robbins help keep the madness watchable (both are coming off splendid performances in baseball movies; Cusack was the sensitive Buck Weaver in Eight Men Out), Robbins was the wild young pitcher Nuke LaLoosh in Bull Durham). Despite them, Tapeheads is less of a night out at the movies than an eventual pick from the cult section at your local video store, where it should be a few weeks from now.

First published in The Herald, October 1988

Good title, of course. Director Fishman has done lots of music videos, and got stuck with Car 54, Where Are You?, which seems unfair. Movie had a real New Wave poster. Also: Doug McClure?

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