Larry and Richard (Jonathan Silverman and Andrew McCarthy) are two struggling low-level employees at a New York insurance corporation. Forced to work on a Sunday in the sweltering heat, luck happens upon them when they find an error in the company books. Someone has been skimming funds! This discovery will surely impress the wealthy CEO Bernie Lomax (Terry Kiser).
And seemingly it does! Bernie is so thankful to the pair for them uncovering this scandalous act he invites Larry and Richard to his Hampton beach home for the Labor Day weekend. The two are excited and believe this will be the big step they needed to get move up the company ladder!
However, it’s not that simple! What fun would a goofy comedy be without some kind of complications??? The fact is, it’s Bernie himself that’s behind the company fraud. He goes to his mobster partner and asks for him to kill the two. And here’s the next twist – the mobster decides to kill Bernie instead!
At the luxurious Hamptons, with beautiful beach scenery, boats and women, Larry and Richard find Bernie dead! He’s been given a fatal injection by a mob hitman! Strangely all the beachgoers and party guests don’t realize Bernie is dead. They just think he’s relaxing! So, the two decide to keep the charade going for awhile so they can enjoy the holiday weekend!
Eventually Larry and Richard discover Bernie’s plot of having them killed. The only protection they have from the mob hitman wandering the island who they believe is set out to kill them, is to keep company with a very much alive Bernie.
From there Bernie is carried, pulled, buried, falls and floats all around The Hamptons with Larry and Richard, who are trying their best to make it appear he’s as alive as he ever was.
With the very simple premise, you won’t likely mistake Weekend at Bernie’s as anything other than a lowbrow comedy.
And that’s probably the main reason as to why it has become something of a cult 80’s comedy. When it was first released, Weekend at Bernie’s was an unexpected box office hit and became one of the more popular films audiences were going to see that summer. It has endeared itself to a fair share of fans who went to see it when they were younger, others discovered it on VHS and cable, it got rediscovered by a new generation fascinated by 1980s movies. Weekend at Bernie’s has a devoted fanbase that continue to sing its praises.
For many, this goofy black comedy has become just as beloved as any of the more popular, mainstream 80s films that are universally revered. Weekend at Bernie’s is considered something of ‘a classic comedy’ in the bargain bin of films. It’s become beloved for just how stupid a story it is.
Heck, I’ve even seen some fans don white pants, striped sweater, a blue jacket a fake mustache and a pair of sunglasses to be ‘Bernie’ for Halloween!
Even as recently in 2020, Bernie made headlines again! Because of Covid MLB games were playing with no audiences in attendance and were using cardboard cutouts of fans to fill the seats. For whatever reason, someone decided to include a cutout of Bernie to fill one of the seats at a Kansas City Royals game. There Bernie was, sitting right behind home plate! He did not go unnoticed.
Weekend at Bernie’s certainly doesn’t try to be anything other than a dopey comedy. It tries to pull out as many outrageous ideas of how to use the corpse of Bernie as a comedy prop that will make Silverman and McCarthy react in exaggerated, animated ways and hope to make the audience laugh. Getting laughs out of a dead body is a tough thing to do for a full length movie. How many ways can you make a dead body funny?
Some gags work better than others. Typically it’s the guys frantically trying to move Bernie’s body from here to there. In some instances Bernie appears in odd places at the most inopportune moments, like when Silverman is about to makeout with Catherine Mary Stewart on the beach, Bernie just washes up on shore next to them.
It’s really not all that complicated or creative a comedy. It’s hard for me to think up one moment in the film where I was ever, “Oh, now that’s an unexpected and clever joke there!”. Nah. It’s mainly routine physical comedy that is not at all intellectually challenging. The most impressive thing about the dead body gag is how Kiser can remain lifeless throughout it. He manages to flop around, have a goofy look and I never managed to catch him blink his eyes.
It’s funny, Kiser had a long career before Weekend at Bernie’s, appearing in movies and television going back to the 1970s. When I would see him pop up in a guest spot on TV I always recognized him from his guest appearance from a Three’s Company episode.
From all the work he had done, Kiser’s most popular performance has to be playing Bernie Lomax. It’s kind of strange that he gets most recognized for his role as a dead body.
If you get into the spirit of the movie (and you MUST get in the spirit of it to get any entertainment out of Weekend at Bernie’s) some variations of Bernie’s dead body slumping around, being pulled by a boat and Silverman and McCarthy dragging him in-between them can illicit some laughs and chuckles. It’s rather innocuous Looney Tunes kind of humor.
Compared to the more recent Swiss Army Man, what happens with Bernie’s body is practically G-rated in comparison.
If you’re not onboard with the premise from the start, then expect to do plenty of head-shaking, groans and muttering “Why am I watching this?”. You’ll also start pointlessly reasoning and questioning actual facts about dead bodies, like when would Bernie start smelling and when would rigor mortis set in.
One could easily dismiss Bernie’s as a junk movie. It is very easy to! The title has become something of a shorthand joke as an example of the lowbar of cinema. Even today, you’ll hear it used as a reference, an example of a ‘bad movie’ and an easy movie title mention to get a laugh from.
Hey, the criticisms are valid and if Bernie’s isn’t your thing that’s fine. But I do find it kind of odd when the movie gets kicked for being a stupid comedy, since that’s exactly what it means to be and that’s why fans love it. No one watching Bernie’s would really mistake the film for anything else. The filmmakers knew what it was. The actors freely admit that it was just a wacky comedy and nothing more. If you set out to watch it that’s exactly what you’re going to get.
Now, it’s starting to sound like I’m valiantly putting up a defense for Weekend at Bernie’s and am ready to argue it’s one of those great unsung 1980s comedies that doesn’t get the respect it deserves. I am not going to go that far!
You may have noticed I haven’t really mentioned anything else about Bernie’s other than Silverman and McCarthy dragging around poor Kiser. Well, that’s because – that’s the only notable things that happen in the movie.
There’s a slight romantic subplot with Silverman trying to woo Stewart. He’s awkward and unconfident, so at the start he weaves some lies to make him sound like he’s a bigger success than he actually is. Trying to make her think that he lives on his own in this apartment, the charade comes crashing down when his father walks in on them. Trying to convince Stewart that he’s simply his butler doesn’t work.
It’s complete good fortune that she’s also spending the holiday weekend in the Hamptons. It’s the perfect opportunity for him to try to redeem himself and win her over. Making sure Bernie’s death is a secret is vital not to spoil the mood.
That’s one thing that is lacking in Weekend at Bernie’s – Sliverman and McCarthy’s characters. There really isn’t much to them. They’re sort of meant to be an odd couple pair. Silverman is more the straight arrow, nervous, worrying, hard worker type. McCarthy is the freewheeling, mellow, lazy, horny, envious one. I think there could have been more comedy mined from them on their own.
They could have been given a bit more of the comedy spotlight. At the start it looks like McCarthy is going to be a real horndog hitting on the Hampton ladies left and right, getting turned down, acting a bit outrageous and important thus inviting some comedy – but not really. Both of them are good actors, and they probably could have added more laughs and one-liners on their own, rather than just pulling Bernie around in a wagon.
But again, that’s not the comedy that Weekend at Bernie’s is gunning to be. So the pair are mainly saddled with acting panicked and shocked as they try to pretend Bernie is alive. Kiser becomes the real star and lynchpin to the comedy.
Also, a lot of the comedy isn’t filmed with any real kind of style or finesse. I think a lot of the dead body jokes could have had more flourish with them. Maybe had they been better staged.
It would be much more fun and interesting if I felt strongly about Weekend at Bernie’s one way or the other, but I’ve always felt somewhat indifferent towards it. I never LOVED it and I never downright HATED it – it was just there. Just a dim-witted comedy that sprung out of the 1980s. There were plenty of bizarre comedies with a weird premise. This one promises silly gags of two guys trying to pretend a dead guy isn’t dead – mission accomplished!
I will say, I’d take Weekend at Bernie’s over any Adam Sandler comedy! Most of Sandler’s movies are unbearable to watch for me. Bernie’s at least provides a lot more enjoyment with its one-joke premise and Silverman and McCarthy jump into the slapstick tone with all they got. I wouldn’t categorize it as a ‘classic comedy’ as others have christened it, but it’s a fine frivolous summer movie. It’s certainly not as heavy or dreary as Swiss Army Man.
Weekend at Bernie’s is not a comedy I think about or have rewatched much since that summer of ’89. I wasn’t even planning on rewatching it recently, but I stumbled onto it and just kept it on. I guess I’d consider it a timekiller of a movie.
Clearly others have gotten much more enjoyment out of it, while others dismiss it. It certainly has achieved a nostalgic cult status for whatever the reasons. For me, I think it’s fine for what it is and delivered to me exactly what I always thought it would.
I certainly was never hoping for a sequel to it, but five years later Silverman, McCarthy and Kiser reteamed for 1993’s Weekend at Bernie’s II. That one, I don’t have any positive things to say about.
While some might call the first film a stupid movie – I’d agree to that – but I can at least get some entertainment and grins from it. You have to admit it’s a unique story and it’s as straight forward as it can be. It’s probably best to keep a story about a dead Bernie as basic as possible and just lean into the corpse jokes.
Plus, it has that zany 1980s comedy vibe to it. It has that certain ‘something’ that makes a lot of comedies from the decade stand out and be distinctive from any other time in cinema. That time period, with the clothes, the music, the attitude, the ridiculousness. I don’t know how to describe it, but it’s something that I don’t think is easy to recapture.
The sequel has to get REALLY convoluted and desperate to make the setup happen once again. Even when they get Silverman, McCarthy and the dead Kiser back together on a beach getaway, there really isn’t anything for them to do that wasn’t done just as well in the original. Also, the story they came up with is a absolute boring mess!
The guys are suspected of being the ones who embezzled the money from the company, so they have to find the money and it’s somewhere in the Virgin Islands, so they have to follow this map to find some buried treasure. Barry Bostwick follows the guys all around.
Then there’s some voodoo guys who put a spell on Bernie who can now dance and walk whenever music is nearby. It’s a ludicrous excuse of Bernie to go missing on them all the time. It’s really quite bad and unfunny.
It’s not one of those sequels that improves on anything from the first or would secure a nomination as a great sequel. When Weekend at Bernie’s II came out critics weren’t kind to it – not really a surprise right? It did modest business, but didn’t capture the audience the first did.
The best approach is probably to keep a story about a dead Bernie as basic as possible.
I’m not keeping my fingers crossed for another sequel, a remake or a reboot. There’s no need for it! Weekend at Bernie’s was fine as just a screwy little 80s comedy. Let’s just let Bernie Rest In Peace.
And just for comparison’s sake here’s the trailer for the sequel