This Looks Terrible! Weekend at Bernie's II (1993)
The 1989 dark comedy Weekend at Bernie’s was a sizable box office hit whose success says terrible things about the intelligence and judgment of the moviegoing public. The movie’s boffo box-office doesn’t exactly reflect well on humanity, either. But the Robert Klane-written (Where’s Poppa?), Ted Kotcheff-directed (The Apprenticeship of Dudley Kravitz, First Blood) farce about a pair of yuppies forced to pretend a corpse of a coworker is still alive for reasons far too stupid to go into found its true destiny as a walking punchline, glib shorthand for Hollywood formula at its most insultingly ridiculous.
It’s a goddamn miracle that a movie with a premise as impressively, unforgettably, singularly idiotic as Weekend at Bernie’s’ got made. It’s an even greater, even shittier miracle that a movie with that premise not only got made but grossed twice its budget despite everyone in the world agreeing that a movie whose premise sounds like a parody of a moronic Hollywood plot was somehow even stupider than even it had any right to be.
If Weekend at Bernie’s is an appalling motion picture but a weirdly enduring, even satisfying cosmic joke then the idea that a movie with such a feeble reason to exist would spawn a sequel four years later is an even bigger, even weirder, even more perplexing cosmic joke without a punchline.
When I wrote for The A.V Club back in the day we had a very popular annual feature dedicated to the Least Essential albums of each year. The idea wasn’t necessarily to single out the worst music but rather albums with no reason to exist, that are unjustifiable on every level yet are available for purchase all the same.
That’s Weekend at Bernie’s II. It is quite possibly the single least essential movie ever made. You know how you absolutely need to see Citizen Kane or The Godfather if you’re a cinephile? On a similar level, you absolutely, one hundred percent do not need to experience Weekend at Bernie’s II unless your life and career consists of an obsessive, decades-long search for the very worst of the worst, as mine does.
Simply because I can, and there’s no one to stop me, I decided that I would experience and write about Weekend at Bernie’s II.
Weekend at Bernie’s II opens with the kind of badly animated opening credits that invariably serves as a warning that whatever follows will be spectacularly, flamboyantly terrible
Wacky cartoon opening credits are supposed to be funny, or rather “funny.” Instead, they indicate that the filmmakers have a sense of humor about how terrible their movie is. Weekend at Bernie’s II is a movie about shameless assholes who will do anything to make money, no matter how undignified and distasteful, made by people who will do anything to make money, no matter how undignified and distasteful.
Weekend at Bernie’s picks up immediately after the first film ended. Our loathsome heroes Larry (Andrew McCarthy) and Richard (Jonathan Silverman) are overjoyed about the big raises and promotions they’re about to receive for discovering that Bernie (Terry Kiser) had embezzled millions from the company.
There are two kinds of people in the world. There are people like Larry and Richard, who talk a big game about the big promotion and raise they’re about to receive, and there are people who actually get big raises and promotions.
Sure enough, a belligerent Larry makes the mistake of taunting his company’s head bean counter Hummell (Barry Bostwick), “Boy, Bernie was really raping the company right under your nose!”
The unamused company insists that Larry and Richard must have been in on the scheme with Bernie, then fires them both instantly and gives Hummel two week to retrieve the missing millions or be fired himself.
In the Virgin Islands, meanwhile, a voodoo priestess known as Mobu (Novella Nelson) encounters party-hearty dolts Henry (Steve James) and Charles (Tom Wright) asking questions like, “Say, homes, where they hiding the scotch?”
Henry and Charles never do discover where the scotch is being hidden. In an even more unfortunate turn of events, Mobu puts a spell on these halfwits and hypnotizes them into going to America to bring Bernie back to life so that his corpse can lead the mobsters employing her to the missing millions.
In performances that were understandably overlooked by the NAACP Image Award folks that year, these idiots try to perform the voodoo ceremony in the back room of a porn theater but they lose a chicken necessarily for resurrection so they decide to improve and use a pigeon instead.
The men begin singing and dancing spontaneously, as black characters in movies of the day were prone to do, while trying to perform the voodoo ritual and are astonished to discover that Bernie, astonishingly, is boogying alongside them.
How is that possible? Well, as Neil Degrasse Tyson will happily attest, if you substitute a pigeon for a chicken in a voodoo ritual, it’s going to change the end result in hilarious AND musical way. As Henry sanely reasons, “We used the pigeon when we should have used the chicken and that’s why (Bernie) can only move when the music is playing!”
Yes, Bernie can boogie, but only in the presence of music. Bernie’s dead yet funky body feels the groove and reacts accordingly without the participation or approval of his face or his non-functioning zombie brain. He’s like a human bobble head with a face that says “recently expired” and a body with a potent connection to tropical rhythms more powerful than death.
Sometimes Bernie’s booty will feel the beat and start moving independently of the rest of his body in a matter that anticipates the twerking craze. Did Bernie invent twerking? Yes, he did. Sorry, folks, that’s now canon. All histories of twerking must now begin with Weekend at Bernie’s II and Bernie’s posthumous beach butt boogie.
To paraphrase the famous line about Esther Williams. Alive, Terry Kiser is a nobody. A loser. A fraud. A waste of space. An embarrassment to his family and community and the family of man. Dead, he’s a goddamn star. UNDEAD and loving it, plus dancing like he’s feeling the funk as deeply as the Rigor Mortis? He’s a fucking superstar, the most talented physical comedian since Charlie Chaplin.
That Weekend at Bernie’s II works at all is a testament to just how much a great character actor and physical comedian like Kiser can bring to even the most abysmal projects. As long as Bernie is onscreen flopping around like a broke-neck doll on a string being manipulated by some unseen puppet master the movie has a weird, cornball charm. This is a godawful motion picture but I enjoyed pretty much every moment of Kiser’s performance.
Kiser figured out a way for Bernie to move in death that’s funny and weird and oddly hypnotic.
Despite being dead, Bernie is easily the liveliest character here. He’s a goddamn boogying voodoo corpse and accidental twerking pioneer and I still found him more sympathetic and likable than the movie’s ostensible leads.
Bernie has so much undead swag that he nearly manages to get laid when a tourist tires of her muscle head jock boyfriend and becomes enamored of the curious stranger with the funky dance moves and fun aura. For this unfortunate woman, Bernie is the perfect man: graceful, brave (he takes repeated punches from the jealous boyfriend without complaining, or even making a sound), a terrific dancer (of course) and a wonderful listener always happy to lend a sympathetic ear, who never talks about his problems, or at all.
It’d be like Being There if the movie was actually operating at the same cognitive level as Chauncey Gardner.
The island setting, voodoo theme and stereotypical black characters lends this sequel a distinct blaxploitation quality: think of the little-loved follow up as Bleekend at Blernie’s.
I realize I have not talked much about the characters Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman play here for a very good reason: they’re fucking terrible. If American Psycho was a crappy 1980s sitcom they’d be perfect for Patrick Bateman’s pals. They do nothing whatsoever to earn our affection. Yet we’re nevertheless supposed to root for them and against Henry and Charles, who end the film goats being pulled by Bernie’s corpse.
Oh, the adventures Bernie has here! He accidentally removes the bikini tops from a pair of beach beauties, is bitten by a shark, nearly gets laid and spends a fair amount of time underwater.
I now what you’re probably wondering: if Bernie can only move when he’s ‘hearing’ music (which, I would imagine is difficult when you’re dead) then how can he be moving underwater? With a pair of headphones of course. Are the filmmaker really asking us to believe that an ordinary pair of Discman headphones would work underwater? Come on, now. How gullible do they think the audience for a sequel to Weekend at Bernie’s is?
I don’t want to be overly critical, but Weekend at Bernie’s II is positively RIDDLED with implausibilities! It really takes you out of the movie.
It would be a real shame if, when he dies decades from now America’s most beloved humorous cadaver, Terry Kiser doesn't donate his body to Hollywood for slapstick physical comedy. The hilarity they could create with that corpse! At the very least, he’d be a great Yorik. It'd benefit everyone! I'm laughing just thinking about the funny things his dead body could do! Hollywood failed Kiser by not writing more juicy roles for funny corpses. He owned that particularly microscopic segment of the pop culture universe.
Thankfully, not everyone has forgotten Kiser or his heroic work here.
Looking up Weekend at Bernie’s on Wikipedia, where it has an exquisitely, perversely elaborate plot summary I made a discovery.
Decades after Weekend at Bernie’s II came and went, a dance craze emerged from the South based, astonishingly enough, on the movements of the undead icon Terry Kiser made legendary.
A 2010 Youtube video from an artist named Crazillion called “Movin Like Berney” has attracted just under thirteen million views. THIRTEEN MILLION! That’s fucking good. Take a million, multiply it by thirteen and you have thirteen million.
The Movin’ Like Berney dance was so improbably and wonderfully successful and ubiquitous that NFL star, garbage human being and domestic abuser Ray Rice implemented it into a touchdown celebration.
The “Movin’ Like Berney” single and dance craze epitomizes Hip Hop’s ability to make something out of nothing, to take the only fun, or weird, or interesting element of a pop culture phenomenon pretty much everyone had forgotten about and make something crazy and cool and unexpected and quintessentially Hip Hop out of it, even if the inspiration is about as un-Hip Hop as you can possibly get.
Crazillion took the only improbably redeeming facet of a shitty, casually racist movie and helped popularize a fun dance based on it. That alone almost justifies this ridiculous endeavor. According to Wikipedia a third entry was planned (horrifyingly enough, this was a modest commercial success in addition to sweeping the Oscars) in what at least someone envisioned as the Weekend at Bernie’s trilogy. Thankfully the filmmakers were willing to quit while they were far behind.
That of course leaves the door open to a reboot for a generation that has never known the magic of this particular saga before but where on earth are you going to find another Terry Kiser? The man is a goddamn unicorn. He’s a legend. He’s a dead AND undead icon. There’s only one of him but if the various “Movin’ Like Berney videos are to be believed, there are a whole lot of people who can move like Berney, and would be overjoyed to have an opportunity to strut their stuff on the big screen.
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