This one has all the elements for hot-weather success: It’s crude, tacky and tasteless. You may laugh, but you’ll hate yourself in the morning. Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman play two jerky New York-insurance-company trainees whose boss (the eponymous Bernie) invites them to his Hamptons beach house so he can pin a rap on them for his latest shady deal. But before the jerks arrive, Bernie gets offed — via drug injection — by a hit man. The boys fear they’ll be targets for the Mob and the cops unless they can make Bernie look alive for the weekend.
It’s a cadaver comedy. Not the luckiest of genres. Remember Bette Midler dragging around the dead body of husband Rip Torn in Jinxed? Of course you don’t. That’s my point. The film did a box-office belly-flop. Ditto S.O.B. and The Loved One. Even Alfred Hitchcock couldn’t coax giggles out of a carcass in The Trouble With Harry.
That leaves a big job — on the order of raising Lazarus — for the collection of has-beens gathered here. Director Ted Kotcheff’s most recent films (The Winter People, Switching Channels) were bad enough to make you forget that he was once capable of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz and North Dallas Forty. Robert Klane’s inane screenplays for The Man With One Red Shoe and National Lampoon’s European Vacation quickly dulled the memory of his incisive Where’s Poppa. The two stars are also fresh off losing streaks: McCarthy with Kansas and Less Than Zero; Silverman with Caddyshack II and Stealing Home.
The good news is that all of the above have returned to form. Kotcheff puts a slapstick spin on Klane’s amiably silly dialogue, masking the gaping plot holes. McCarthy is less moody than usual; Silverman less moo-cow needy. They find a perfect foil in Terry Kiser, who, as Bernie, gives the liveliest portrayal of a corpse in screen history. Aided by his two charges, Bernie can wink, wave, even water-ski. His mistress, hilariously played by Catherine Parks, finds Bernie’s sexual performance has improved; she’s too looped to credit rigor mortis.
All cast members seem willing to make total fools of themselves for our delectation. A fine but futile gesture. The bad news is that even with such yeoman efforts, it’s still impossible to drag one tired joke around for nearly two hours. Like Bernie, the movie ends up dead on its feet.