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Weekend at Bernie's(1989)
Two young men are trying to make their way in a corporation, one on charm, the other on hard work. When Bernie, the company president, invites them to his beach house for the weekend and dies unexpectedly, a serious threat requires them to pretend that he's still alive.
For more about Weekend at Bernie's and the Weekend at Bernie's Blu-ray release, see Weekend at Bernie's Blu-ray Review published by Michael Reuben on May 16, 2014 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Andrew McCarthy, Jonathan Silverman, Catherine Mary Stewart, Terry Kiser, Don Calfa, Catherine Parks
Director: Ted Kotcheff
» See full cast & crew
Weekend at Bernie's Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Michael Reuben, May 16, 2014
Under the old studio system, directors had to be versatile. Victor Fleming famously made both The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind in the same year. Michael Curtiz, was equally adept at a gangster film like Angels with Dirty Faces , a romance like Casablanca, a musical like White Christmas, and many other styles. Contemporary equivalents aren't easy to find, but a good candidate is Canadian filmmaker Ted Kotcheff, whose eclectic oeuvre extends from Wake in Fright, the harrowing drama of an Englishman's descent into madness in the Australian outback; to First Blood, the initial entry in the Rambo series; to the critically panned but enduringly popular Eighties farce, Weekend at Bernie's. Bernie's disproves the adage from Soapdish, an underrated Nineties comedy, when the head writer of a TV drama tells her producer: "Actors don't like to play coma. They feel it limits their range." In Bernie's, actor Terry Kiser spends two thirds of the movie playing a man who's dead—and still manages to steal the show, thanks to cooperative co-stars, a skilled crew and Kotcheff's wicked sense of humor. Having previously dispatched a series of gourmet chefs in ways that would make Gordon Ramsay's day (Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?), Kotcheff appreciated the comedic value of a skillfully positioned corpse. In Bernie's, he devises interesting ways to "animate" the cadaver, and Kiser's performance gives new meaning to the term "deadpan". It doesn't hurt that, before the untimely passing of Kiser's titular character, the actor has made him so thoroughly despicable that you much prefer him dead.
The setting is New York City in the Eighties. Offices still use typewriters; the computers on desktops are big, clunky boxes with TV-tube monitors; computer printouts still arrive on wide green-and-white paper with holes at the sides. In one of these offices slave two friends from college, junior corporate drones hoping to advance. Richard Parker (Jonathan Silverman), who still lives in his parents' apartment, is the serious one with a solid work ethic. He's so thoroughly bought into the corporate ethos that he wears a tie to the office even on weekends. His buddy, Larry Wilson (Andrew McCarthy), is the opposite. Having observed that his father's hard work only got him "more work", Larry is looking for an angle. At the moment, he figures that hanging around Richard is the best way to find one. Larry and Richard think they've found a ticket to advancement when they discover a $2 million discrepancy in the company's favor. They can't wait to tell the president, Bernie Lomax (Kiser), but what they don't know is that they've stumbled on Bernie's embezzlement scheme. To protect his secret, Bernie invites the junior employees to his lavish Hampton Island beach house for the Labor Day weekend to review the books in private. His real plan is to have them quietly liquidated by the crime family with whom Bernie has been working, but what Bernie doesn't know is that mob boss Vito (Louis Giambalvo) has decided to hit Bernie instead, for a variety of reasons. When Larry and Richard arrive for what they expect will be a weekend of partying and spreadsheets, they find their boss dead at his desk from a drug overdose, courtesy of Vito's henchman, Paulie (Don Calfa). The extended charade in which Larry and Richard pretend that Bernie is still alive isn't so hard to accept, given the permanently inebriated state of the parade of spongers that descends upon the house and immediately heads for the champagne and caviar. They're so self-absorbed that they can't be bothered to notice that their host on the couch in sunglasses never moves (except when Larry or Richard turns his head) and never says a word. Somewhat harder to justify is the failure of the young houseguests to call the authorities. The simple explanation is that they're really not too bright—and they're panicked. Then, of course, there's the pretty intern, Gwen (Catherine Mary Stewart, The Last Starfighter), on whom Richard has a devastating crush, and who turns out to be staying nearby with her wealthy parents. She keeps dropping by to thank Bernie for her job, and Richard is petrified that she'll find him in a compromising position with his boss's remains. Eventually, when Larry and Richard realize that Bernie wanted them dead, they somehow conclude that their only chance of staying alive is to convince the hit man, whom they assume is still out there, that Bernie hasn't yet had time to get away and establish his alibi for their murder. In fact, Paulie has spotted the animated corpse making the rounds and has returned to the island to finish (or is it "redo"?) the job he thought he'd already completed. The script by Robert Klane (Where's Poppa?) effectively exploits the seaside setting for opportunities to disguise Bernie's "condition", and Terry Kiser lets himself be pushed, pulled and manhandled in the most undecorous ways imaginable. (One scene involving Bernie's drunken girlfriend flirts with R-rated territory, but the worst is left to the viewer's imagination.) Kotcheff frames the action to make Bernie pop in and out of sight like an unwanted visitor in a French farce. The director himself makes a cameo wearing only his underwear. Viewers who recognize him as the same adventurous soul who sent Englishman John Grant careering through the desolation of "The Yabba" in Wake in Fright should get an extra kick from the scene.
Weekend at Bernie's Blu-ray, Video Quality
Weekend at Bernie's was shot by cinematographer François Protat (Johnny Mnemonic), a frequent collaborator with director Kotcheff during this period. Although the Northeast is said to be suffering from a heat wave in the film, the palette remains bright and cheerful, even in the sweltering city. Once the action shifts to Bernie's island retreat, the cool hues and pastel tones of a seaside paradise help establish the comic contrast with the potentially morbid subject matter. Fox/MGM's 1080p, AVC-encoded Blu-ray is an exceptionally fine catalog release. The source material is in excellent shape. Detail, sharpness and clarity are superior throughout—to such a degree that one can even spot a specific makeup effect used to transform Terry Kiser into Bernie Lomax (the trailer gives away this moment, but I won't). Blacks are deep and solid, and the image has a fine and natural grain pattern that appears undisturbed by filtering, sharpening or other digital manipulation. With an average bitrate of 26.89 Mbps, and no extras other than a trailer, Bernie's has been brought to Blu-ray without visible compression artifacts.
Weekend at Bernie's Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Weekend at Bernie's was released in Dolby Stereo, which has been reproduced here as lossless DTS-HD MA 2.0. When played back through a good surround decoder, the track provides a pleasing sense of ambiance, especially for scenes on the island ferry, at the seashore, in the lighthouse where Gwen takes Richard sightseeing and aboard Bernie's boat. The dynamic range is very good, although there is little in the way of bass extension, and the dialogue is clear. The jaunty soundtrack by Police guitarist Andy Summers sets the perfect mock-serious tone.
Weekend at Bernie's Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Other than the film's trailer (1080p; 1.85:1; 2:35), the disc has no supplements. As is customary with MGM catalog titles mastered and released by Fox, the disc has no main menu. Also, the disc has been mastered with BD-Java, which means that you cannot stop and resume playback from the same point, and Fox has not deigned to include the bookmarking feature that BDJ supports.
Weekend at Bernie's Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The essential appeal of Bernie's is that it's a slapstick comedy, which never goes out of style; it just has to be reinvented for each age. John Hughes may have been the Eighties' single most prolific contributor to the genre, between the Home Alone franchise and the Vacation series, but Klane and Kotcheff made their mark with Weekend at Bernie's (and the far less successful sequel that Klane directed). The film is a period piece now, but it's still funny, because the craftsmanship is solid. The lack of features is unfortunate—somewhere there must be great outtakes—but the presentation is good enough to make this Blu-ray highly recommended.
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