Weekend at Bernie’s (1989)

Starring Andrew McCarthy, Jonathan Silverman, Catherine Mary Stewart, Terry Kiser, Don Calfa, Catherine Parks, Eloise DeJoria, Gregory Salata, Louis Giambalvo, Ted Kotcheff, Margaret Hall

Directed by Ted Kotcheff

Expectations: I have the expectation that this is gonna be one hell of a weekend at Bernie’s! He always throws the best parties!

On the general scale:

On the “People Pretending a Corpse is Still Alive” scale:


When I started Silver Emulsion, I knew one day I’d get here. It was inevitable that I’d review Weekend at Bernie’s, and now having seen it again, I’m finding it hard to know how to go about actually reviewing it. I’ve only seen this once before, around the time it originally dropped on VHS, so I must have been about eight or nine years old. I found its uproarious, black humor intoxicating, with two horny, bumbling dorks doing their best to drag a dead man around as if he were alive. I loved it. I also loved The Three Stooges at the time, and watching this now I was able to see the parallels between the two. And just for the record, Bernie’s corpse is a better replacement for Curly than Shemp.

Weekend at Bernie’s is the other 1989 film set in New York during the sweltering summer heat. Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman work for an insurance firm and over the sticky, roof-melting hot of the weekend, they discover some clear insurance fraud on the company’s books. Come Monday morning they prance down to Bernie Lomax’s office, in hopes of big praise and even bigger rewards. He thanks the boys for finding this “error” and invites them to a weekend at his place… oh I can’t resist, a weekend at Bernie’s! But when they arrive ready for a getaway filled with booze, woman and excitement, they find Bernie slumped over in his office chair.

This is what they call “foreshadowing.”

They don’t initially realize he’s dead, and just as they do, a shitload of people drop in for one of Bernie’s legendary parties. Of course, no one notices he’s dead. Remember that this is the 80s, when everyone was all “Me, me, me.” The self-centered partygoers never cared about Bernie, just as long as his house was open and the booze was flowing, it was all good. Even Andrew McCarthy doesn’t bat an eye at Bernie’s death, instead instantly worrying about how his weekend will be ruined. In the 80s, we mourned the dead after we had our fun. What have you done for me lately, Bernie?

Once Bernie is dead and Silverman & McCarthy start dragging him around, the film is pretty damn funny. One of the real problems though is that it takes about forty minutes to get to that point. This lead-up section is a little too slow, and a little too meandering, but maybe that was just because I knew the big twist going in. Although, wouldn’t anyone that saw the trailer? Anyway, there’s a lot of character building for Silverman’s character via his relationship with Catherine Mary Stewart, but it never really pays off and is merely sidetracking us from the corpse shenanigans. More staple-gunning toupees to Bernie’s head and less forced romantic sub-plots, please. But I can’t complain too much about this, Weekend at Bernie’s is the gold standard in the “People Pretending a Corpse is Still Alive” comedy sub-genre, which, as far as I can tell, consists of a whopping two films. That right there is the definition of an untapped market.

Weekend at Bernie’s contains some great performances from Jonathan Silverman and Andrew McCarthy, but the Oscar goes to Terry Kiser as, you guessed it, Bernie. When the man is alive, he’s the perfect embodiment of an 80s stereotype CEO, snorting cocaine in the bathrooom (off-screen of course, this is PG-13!), womanizing and constantly partying with any and everyone who comes by his beach house. He reminds me immensely of Robert Downey, Jr. in both look and style, and if they remake Weekend at Bernie’s, he’s the only man for the job in my mind. When Bernie is dead, Kiser takes on an even harder task and pulls it off with flying colors. Silverman and McCarthy do a lot of the heavy lifting, but it’s Bernie that slam dunks nearly every comedic alley-oop. His facial expressions alone are hilarious, and well… don’t just take it from me, check out the many faces of Bernie! Lon Chaney, watch out! Feel free to use that “wonderful” collage I made as a wallpaper to forever remind you of the versatility and perseverance of Bernie! Even in death, the man inspires. What a guy!

On the filmmaking front, Weekend at Bernie’s is adequately made, with nothing notable happening with the camera. There’s some interesting long-take conversations where the camera floats around our two heroes, but other than that it’s all standard Hollywood fare for the era. It works perfectly well, but I was expecting something with slightly more gravitas from the director of First Blood. Yeah, as in John Rambo. I couldn’t believe it myself. And why does this morbid cinematic landmark only have a bare-bones DVD release? Where is the luscious Collector’s Edition with replica Bernie toupee and mini staple gun? Where are the lengthy featurettes on the evolution of Bernie as a character and an 80s cultural icon? Where is the lenticular cover that makes Bernie’s arm wildly wave up and down when you tilt it? Criterion, I’m looking at you. Fill the void.

Weekend at Bernie’s is not a film that you could call good really, but it is so singular and unique that it is an absolute must watch. It might be a little DOA at the beginning, but once Bernie dies it’s drop-dead hilarious every time his smirking, sunglass-wearing corpse is on-screen. I can’t help but like this movie, and while my memory of the sequel is very sketchy, I’m excited to see a film where Bernie is dead for the entire runtime. Be sure to come back tomorrow and find out how it went!

4 comments to Weekend at Bernie’s (1989)

  • Stephen

    This was one of my childhood favorites. Right up there with What About Bob as the best comedies from my youth. Seeing that trailer, it still looks hilarious.

    • You know, for the most part it really does hold up. There’s just something timeless about two guys tying their shoelaces to a dead man’s ankles and making him walk. Definitely watch it again if you have a free night. And What About Bob? was another one that I loved as well. I’ve been meaning to re-watch that too.

  • Ahhh finally, here we are – the great film experience of out time (to paraphrase Gandalf) and it’s everything I hoped it would be. Such an awesome film from my youth – I don’t think Terry Kiser has ever done anything as good (and looking at his filmography, I can see that is accurate)and that trailer brings back so many memories.

    I always wanted to be Andrew McCarthy when I was younger, a wish that eventually gave way to wanting to be either Tom Cruise or Harrison Ford, but I always felt his work here with Silverman was brilliant as far as slapstick/straight-man comedy went…. of course, with the benefit of hindsight I can see how terribly wrong I was!

    I was unaware that this was directed by Ted Kotcheff, who helmed First Blood, so that’s a bit of a surprise, and were you to suggest this in normal conversation I’d probably have argued against that fact – I mean, c’mon, they’re totally different styles of film! – so that was a pleasant discovery!

    Nice review, Will! Can’t wait to read your write-up of the sequel!!!

    • Clearly when looking through Terry Kiser’s filmography you missed the stunning gem from the director of Mac and Me, Tammy and the T-Rex! I’m definitely going to watch out for him whenever I finally get around to hunting that one down, and also when I get to the Friday the 13th movies, he’s in Part 7. But all kidding aside, yes, this is Kiser’s shining achievement. He plays dead so well, I wonder how he fetches!

      McCarthy is good here and he plays well off of Silverman, but yeah brilliance is probably seeing Bernie through rose-colored glasses. But that’s the nature of youth, and maybe you wouldn’t be the person you are without that influence of Weekend at Bernie’s!

      Glad you liked the review, I was very nervous that it wouldn’t hold up to the hype. I think the review of the sequel delivers a little better though. I found it a lot easier to write, as that movie is of considerably worse quality.

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