Death doesn’t get in the way of a good time, even years after I first watched ‘Weekend at Bernie’s’

May 11, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
May 11, 2017

A few years ago, as I wrote Wednesday, I re-watched The Black Hole, a science fiction movie that I’d enjoyed as a kid but which seemed severely lacking when viewed through my adult eyes. The other day, I revisited Weekend at Bernie’s, a 1989 comedy that had struck my adolescent self as hilarious, despite being poorly received by critics upon its release.

Reader, I must report the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth: I thought that Weekend at Bernie’s held up pretty well on my recent viewing.

The movie features a darkly hilarious setup. The two protagonists, young insurance-company employees played by Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman, get their holiday off to a rocky start when they discover that their boss and Labor Day weekend host, Bernie Lomax (Terry Kiser), has just died. Because the pair wants to enjoy a few days in Bernie’s opulent beach house, they manipulate the corpse so people think that he’s still alive — much to the consternation of Paulie (Don Calfa), the drug-addled hit man who keeps assassinating Lomax on behalf of a mafioso whom the profligate Lomax has angered.

Director Ted Kotcheff (The Apprenticeship of Duddy KravitzFirst Blood and Uncommon Valor) and screenwriter Robert Klane (National Lampoon’s European Vacation) embrace the corniness at the heart of this premise. The cast goes for broke, too, especially Calfa, whose eyes seem to bulge more and more with every passing moment.

A key part of the plot is the courtship between Gwen (Catherine Mary Stuart), a beautiful summer intern who’s about to head back to college, and Richard (Silverman), who at the start of the story is hopelessly tongue-tied whenever he sees her. Richard is initially determined to report Bernie’s death to the island’s one-man police department but waffles when he realizes that Gwen is spending the weekend with her parents, who have a house near Lomax’s.

A good deal of the fun of Weekend at Bernie’s is seeing the yin-and-yang tug of war between the leads. Slovenly irresponsible hearty-partying Larry Wilson (McCarthy, of Brat Pack infamy) is pretty much the polar opposite of his buddy, dapper diligent workaholic Richard Parker, but their affectionate bickering powers much of the movie. (Fittingly, Klane went on to script the 1993 TV movie that reunited the leads from the sitcom The Odd Couple.)

Another of the joys of Weekend at Bernie’s is the wealthy, self-absorbed islanders’ obliviousness to Bernie’s death. One hapless partygoer who’s intent on buying one of Lomax’s numerous luxury cars keeps on upping his bid as the dead man repeatedly stonewalls his offers. Otherwise, Bernie’s various friends, lovers and hangers-on find him to be awfully accommodating; after all, he’s having his usual weekend open-bar party, and one lady happily confiscates the drugs she finds in the pocket of his (corpse’s) windbreaker.

Sure, some of this movie is just absurd; a few of the antics at the party that Bernie “hosts” shortly his demise left me rolling my eyes. But Silverman has an enjoyable rapport with McCarthy and Stewart, and his frantic attempts to prevent her from learning of Bernie’s death — and, later on, to convince her that Lomax has actually kicked the bucket — is genuinely amusing.

The movie reaches maximum nuttiness in its final act, as Larry, Richard, Gwen and Paulie all come together in Bernie’s beach house. The pratfalls had me bellowing out loud.

Admittedly, this is a silly movie, and a lot of people will just think it’s dumb. But I loved its screwball energy when it originally came out, and I think it still holds up. If you’re in the mood for a few easy laughs, it might be worth checking out Weekend at Bernie’s.

One Response to “Death doesn’t get in the way of a good time, even years after I first watched ‘Weekend at Bernie’s’”

  1. Julie Milli Says:

    We saw this again recently and while it wasn’t quite as funny as I remembered it as a kid, I agree, it was still fun. I think it was my sister’s favorite movie for the longest time!

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