Weekend at Bernie's

Can you guess which of these beach dwellers is dead?

Can you guess which of these beach dwellers is dead?

Weekend at Bernie's is proof that a good concept is worthless if it isn't executed well.

You see, Bernie's basic set up is reasonably strong: Larry and Richard are two low level number crunchers who happen to discover a two million dollar hole in their company's records. They take their findings to their boss Bernie in hopes that he will promote them, but what they don't realize is that Bernie is the guy who took the money. Thus begins a comedy of errors: Bernie hires a hitman to kill them in an effort to cover his tracks; the hitman ends up killing Bernie instead; when the two schmucks stumble across their boss's dead body they realize that they can't report it to the police because then everyone will think that they did it.

Unfortunately, Weekend at Bernie's does nothing to develop its promising premise. This film has one joke: everyone except Larry and Richard acts as if Bernie is still alive even though he is obviously not. Some of the scenes are semi-sensible - you can kind of understand why a bunch of drunk people would overlook the "passed out" guy who was sitting quietly by himself in the corner of a giant raging party. But a lot of the scenes, especially the slapstick ones, are complete nonsense. At one point Bernie's body falls off the side of a moving speedboat and his head gets rammed into buoy after buoy... But when they finally fish the body out of the water his face is none the worse for the wear. It has to be, because if his head looked like a half-smashed slab of meat (as it logically should) then the "Bernie's still alive!" charade would have to stop and then the movie would have to write a second punchline. 

It didn't have to be that way. The script could have easily spun the same set-ups into some biting comedy. For example the party scene: Bernie's corpse is propped up on a couch. A wave of drunk revelers washes into his living room, drinks all of his booze, steals his cocaine out of his jacket pocket, then leave to party at the next beach house. The way that Weekend at Bernie's plays that scene is kind of funny but mostly frustrating - it is just inexplicable that all of these people who are physically touching his body wouldn't realize that they are face to face with a corpse. But what if they actually knew and didn't care? What if they had just shown up at Bernie's house to use his stuff and then didn't give a shit about whether he was alive or dead?

That's a much more nightmarish scene - but that's a scene that would get at something real. It would be sociologically real - of course those debauched assholes don't care where their cocaine comes from. But more importantly it would be psychologically real. During that scene I kept thinking about how a lot of people contemplate suicide because they want other people to wake up and realize "oh, this person is important to me." But what would happen if you died and no one cared? That's a terrifying thought that gets at some of our most primal insecurities - and thus it is a perfect area for a black comedy to explore. Unfortunately, Weekend at Bernie's is not much of a black comedy.

Okay, fine, so this movie doesn't want to go down that route because that would be too morbid. (Although why a comedy about two schmucks who won't stop carrying around a corpse would be afraid to commit to morbidity escapes me.) There are still several other routes that Weekend at Bernie's could have taken which would have made it much more interesting. For example, it could have easily been an American Psycho-style political commentary.

One of American Psycho's most astute jokes is that all of it's Wall Street movers and shakers think that they are "Masters of the Universe" but in fact they are all completely interchangeable cogs in a machine; Patrick Bateman gets away with all of his murders not because he is incredibly powerful but because no one can ever remember his name or what he looks like. That idea could easily be applied here. If Bernie's friends and underlings saw his body and realized it was dead but didn't realize that it was Bernie the story would work in pretty much the same way - but then in addition to showcasing a bunch of corpse-related pratfalls the film would also be making the point that seemingly high powered executives aren't as irreplaceable as they think they are. Furthermore, that extra layer of insight would make the slapstick jokes work even better, because as it is all of the "we don't know a corpse when we see it" sequences just seem dumb, but those scenes would make a lot more sense if they were being used to make a point about how cold-blooded corporate culture can be.

Alas, Weekend at Bernie's has no interest in indicting the self-importance of America's executive class. (At the end of the movie Larry and Richard are still hoping to become high powered executives someday; they've learned nothing from Bernie's bad example.) And as I said before, it isn't willing to explore the depths of the human condition, either. (Not a single character ever says "my god, it is fucking frightening to have to confront our own mortality!"; everyone just acts like death is so unimportant that it shouldn't stop you from having a nice day at the beach.) No, this movie is only interested in kid-friendly slapstick and that seems like a completely wasted opportunity. But maybe if they ever make Weekend at Bernie's 2 maybe they could explore some of those --

Wait, they already made that? And did they -- No? They didn't? You're telling me that instead of making a movie that would touch on something important or relateable or even vaguely plausible they made a movie about a voodoo priestess who is trying to use Bernie's reanimated corpse to find his cache of hidden scrilla?

That's it: I am officially giving up. Why do I spend so much time thinking about the theoretical potential of bad movies when they are clearly garbage in practice? Ugh. I am an idiot. I am never doing this again, I swear!

But wait... What if Weekend at Bernie's three was an in-depth exploration of the death of American exceptionalism... I know that sounds like a stretch, but hear me out...

Winner: Draw

Weekend at Bernie's on IMDB