Bernie Lomax is the Hugh Hefner of the insurance world. He has everything. Wealth, a prestigious job, a fancy car and his date card is always full. He’s the envy of Richard and Larry, two unhappy underlings who dream of living his life.
But Bernie has a secret. He’s ripping off his own company. And he’d do anything to protect himself and his lavish lifestyle. And I mean anything.
When Richard (Jonathan Silverman) and Larry (Andrew McCarthy) discover a discrepancy involving excessive insurance payments during a hot Manhattan weekend on top of the roof of their mostly abandoned office building, they’re eager to show their boss what they’ve found first thing Monday morning. But Bernie (Terry Kiser) isn’t exactly a morning person (blame the alcohol and cocaine) so they have to wait until after lunch to have their meeting.
Initially disputing their findings, he eventually concedes the bare minimum. That two million dollars should not have been paid out. So, as a thank you, he invites them to his secluded beach house for the weekend. He also insists they call him Bernie (not Bern) instead of Mr. Lomax.
Foolishly thinking this is the big break they’ve been waiting for, our two excited heroes can’t wait to finally taste the good life.
Meanwhile, Bernie is terrified of exposure. He has an emergency dinner meeting with his fellow insurance scammer, a former mob boss (he’s more into straight investing these days) demanding a hit be put out on Larry and Richard. (Bernie also wants to pin the blame for his stupidity on them. He must’ve just watched Dog Day Afternoon.) The mob guy plays along but once Bernie leaves the table, he tells one of his goons to shake off the assassin rust and take out the coke-addicted playboy instead. He knows Bernie’s been boffing his girlfriend. (Hell, even Stevie Wonder knows. They’re not exactly discreet.)
So hours before the arrival of his mesmerized employees at his own Playboy Mansion at the beach, the once gregarious insurance guru is already a stiff waiting to be found.
It is the moment Richard & Larry discover his dead body (not right away, it should be noted) that Weekend At Bernie’s, already a profoundly dumb movie, becomes even dumber. Rather than immediately call the cops like rational people, they ultimately maintain the ruse that Bernie isn’t really dead so they can stay.
As it turns out, his beach house (which could not be more aesthetically unpleasing from the outside (what’s with the cube design?); it isn’t so lavish on the inside, either) is party central. Guests, some already good and sloshed, file into Bernie’s open place to drink his free booze and mingle, many of them young, beautiful, single women in bikinis. (God damn, Tawny.)
Despite having serious doubts, the straight-laced Richard is convinced by the more rebellious Larry to repeatedly put down the phone and enjoy the company. Despite not ever saying a word and never moving a muscle on his own, no one else notices that Bernie is dead! Not the guy who wants to sell him a black Maserati, not the woman who steals his pocket stash of coke, not Hanz & Franz (one of whom gives him a massage and neck adjustment), not the woman who accidentally sits on his hand thinking he was copping a feel, not even the alcoholic harasser who’s the last to leave. No one! At one point, Richard even asks out loud to no one in particular, “Doesn’t anybody realize he’s dead?”
I have a better question. Didn’t the filmmakers realize there was no way to make this work? Think about it. When you die, rather quickly you start to stiffen. (Bernie remains rather limber for a corpse.) You start to smell pretty bad. (At no point does any character notice a foul dead guy odor.) You don’t have a pulse. (Despite being touched a lot, no one notices an absent heartbeat or breath.) And you’re remarkably silent. (Characters carry on conversations with him not caring that he never audibly responds.)
When we first see a fully alive Bernie in this perpetually sunny paradise, everybody knows him. He knows everybody. He interacts accordingly. After he dies, no one notices his sudden silent treatment and lack of voluntary movement. What the fuck?
To keep the ruse going, Richard & Larry become his pathetic puppeteers, moving the appropriate body part at the opportune time to fool his idiotic neighbours and friends. When they attempt to get off the island with him, they literally tie his shoelaces to their own to create the illusion they’re all walking together. No one notices the shoelaces!
As if this wasn’t all incredibly annoying already, the mob guy’s hitman returns and notices Bernie up and about wrongly thinking he didn’t kill him. (The mob boss’s philandering girlfriend is secretly observed having sex with his corpse (yep, she didn’t know) by another of his associates.) That leads to a couple of painfully stupid scenes where he keeps “killing” an already murdered man. He “strangles” him, he shoots him several times in the chest. Over time, he becomes convinced Bernie is immortal. Over time, I became convinced he was born without a brain like the filmmakers who made this insulting piece of shit.
Then there’s Gwen (Catherine Mary Stewart), a cute summer intern at the insurance company who Richard has been crushing on from afar. Too nervous and dopey to have a normal, mature conversation with her, it takes him a while to finally get a date. Unfortunately, he lies a lot. Too embarrassed to admit he lives at home with his parents (ahem), when his thirsty, groaning underwear-clad dad unintentionally interrupts his nighttime makeout session with her, he treats him like his butler. His dad doesn’t play along. She leaves soon thereafter.
But then there she is at the same secluded island (her parents have their own summer home here) attending the same impromptu beach party at Bernie’s retreat conveniently running into a highly apologetic Jonathan who nonetheless can’t stop lying. Gwen must be really hard up for dates if she thinks this jackass is a catch.
I first saw Weekend At Bernie’s with some friends as an easily impressed teenager at my local multiplex in the summer of 1989. I don’t remember how many times I laughed as an ignorant 14-year-old but I did enjoy it. (So did one of our classmates who got caught smoking by an usher as he was watching the film a few rows in front of us. I wonder what happened to him.)
Four years later, I had a very different reaction to Weekend At Bernie’s II. I had seen a lot more films beginning in the summer of 1990 and had become far more discerning by the summer of 1993. I still consider it the worst movie I ever saw in a theatre.
After all these decades, I now feel the same way about the original. My God, there is not a single, intelligent, genuinely funny moment here. Not one. Silverman and McCarthy are audience repellent, to borrow TV critic Bill Brioux’s excellent phrase. We could care less about their predicament. As for Terry Kiser, I hope he got paid a lot.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, August 9, 2015