Millionaire executive Bernie Lomax (Terry Kiser) is much like the mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent in that they both hold big secrets that everyone else should be able to figure out. The difference, though, is that Clark Kent is Superman, and Bernie Lomax is, well, dead. Just as no one has ever figured out that Superman is Clark Kent minus the glasses, no one in Weekend at Bernie’s notices that the silent, still, Bernie is no longer among the living. The premise for Weekend at Bernie’s, an amusing situation comedy from, improbably, the director of First Blood, is so ridiculous it can only make you smile…or shake your head in disappointment. Either way, a film like this may gain a certain type of infamy not so much for being terrible but for being one big joke. Only towards the end, the joke starts to wear thin.
Hard-working Richard Parker (Jonathan Silverman) and his best bud and semi-slacker Larry (Andrew McCarthy) are trying to work their way up the corporate ladder, toiling nights and weekends processing financial information. When they discover an error on a printout that could cost their corporation upwards of $2 million because of a supposed embezzlement, the pair takes the discovery to head-honcho Mr. Bernie Lomax, an insincere, Gordon Gecko wannabee. Lomax seems concerned over the scandal and invites the boys to spend a weekend at his beach house on “Hampton Island” to discuss the matter, but it turns out that he is in on it with the Mafia. When his Mafia partner learns that Lomax has been fooling around with his girlfriend, he has him killed at the beach house, right before the junior execs arrive. Richard and Larry discover Bernie’s dead body, and rather than immediately phone the police, they choose to enjoy their weekend getaway, even if it is accompanied by a corpse.
Most of Weekend at Bernie’s circles around the primo beach house. The massive location, built especially for this film, is used as a modern jungle gym for the neck-breaking physical comedy that follows. The film is not so much concerned with witty dialogue as with the pratfalls of the title cadaver. Poor, lifeless, Bernie is flipped off porches and tumbled down steps, all for the purpose of inducing giggles. Spending most of the film dead on his feet, Terry Kiser gives a nice supernatural smirk when getting himself into trouble. Though he is as dead as a doornail, Kiser makes acting dead funnier than it has any right to be. As Bernie’s corpse is lost and taken through constant obstacles, the film chooses to rely on the dead guy as its key prop. This is wise, since nothing else is quite as funny.
There is a subplot that involves the antics of the Mafia hit man (Don Kalfa) who repeatedly kills Bernie because he keeps seeing him prancing around, waving at people, and going on with his business, even though he is supposed to be dead. Every time the hit man begins to leave the island, believing his job to be done, he sees him waltzing around with Richard and Larry, unable to fathom how he is still alive. Richard and Larry are running around with Bernie because they are trying to escape the island so that the same hit man doesn’t try to kill them, also. Weekend at Bernie’s plays right because the story is a well-managed comedy of errors, the kind where every plot detail corresponds with another to create the most absurd situation possible.
After the tenth or so Bernie-related mishap, the film begins to repeat itself, though it keeps a big smile going the entire time. A film like Weekend at Bernie’s should be commended for being smart enough to be so dumb. Bravo.