Sunday, February 24, 2013

Airheads

I can picture Steve Buscemi as a member of a heavy metal band. Brendan Frasier, that's a bit harder to envision, but with a little work, I can buy it. Adam Sandler doesn't look he'd fit in a hard rock outfit, but it could be worse; they could have cast Marky Mark.

In Airheads (1994), Buscemi (looking like Pantera's Rex Brown), Frasier (looking like Bret Michaels without the glam makeup), and Sandler (looking and acting like someone with brain damage) play Rex, Chaz, and Pip, a heavy metal band known as the Lone Rangers, and they're looking for their big break on the L.A. scene. After being rejected by a record company executive (Judd Nelson), the group heads to a local radio station to try to get airplay for their demo. When disc jockey Ian (Joe Mantegna) and station manager Milo (Michael McKean) refuse, Rex and Chaz brandish Uzis and take everyone at the station hostage. The whole scene erupts into a media frenzy as police (led by Ernie Hudson and Chris Farley) and a crowd of rock fiends descend on the station's perimeter, not realizing the guys are holding everyone at bay with water guns.

Though never as sharp or satirical as it could have been, Airheads plays as the 90s moron comedy combination of This is Spinal Tap and Dog Day Afternoon. At it's most basic level, this another one of those cool, free spirits following their dreams vs. the square establishment stories, and the film takes a number of shots at corporate sellouts, easy listening music ("The Mellow Sounds of Rain"), and the dismissive media. Sure, it's hardly original, there are some missed comic opportunities, and the jokes can be pretty stupid, but for 90 minutes, it's a good time, containing enough laughs and surprise cameos to sustain its running length.

As a heavy metal fan, I'm always a bit nervous when Hollywood tries its hand at portraying the genre because in the past filmmakers have demonstrated a bit of a condescending and dismissive attitude toward it (see Rock Star, or better yet, don't because it sucks). In Airheads, there's some gentle fun being poked at metal, but it's not nasty. Plus, the likes of Motörhead and Anthrax are on the soundtrack and not Hollywood's usual idea of metal (which is to say Def Leppard and Bon Jovi). Chaz, Rex, and Pip might not be the brightest bulbs on the Sunset Strip, but they do have a certain goofy charm. Determined rockers they are, but they aren't vulgar (well, comparatively) or mean-spirited, and they do have their pride and dignity. They're at least important to themselves, and that's an important mechanism of comedy.

I would have like it if more musical performances had been depicted. Chaz gets a great moment when he rants against Milo and Ian about they really don't know what rock is. "Do you know what it's like to be on the bill and to play for fifteen minutes and the only people there to see you are the other bands and their girlfriends? Don't talk to me about Rock 'n' Roll! I'm out there in the clubs and on the streets and I'm living it! I AM ROCK N ROLL!" That's actually a great a little character moment, and I think it would have benefited the movie to depict that stuff he's talking about. It would have better established their desperation; instead, all we get is Judd Nelson blowing off Chad.

A lot of the comedy consists of wacky hijinks. At one point, the boys figure if they demand a lot bizarre things from the police, they can plead insanity later; among the items they request: 57 copies of Moby Dick, a football helmet filled with cottage cheese, and naked pictures of Bea Arthur. There's also a subplot with a station employee (Michael Richards) hiding in the vents of the building and accidentally lighting himself on fire. Meanwhile, Farley is the cop charged with locating Chaz's girlfriend, and he finds her at a club where he is clearly out of place; this sequence taught me two things: never wear nipple rings, and don't mess with Farley.

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