More than meets the ear

Rebellion to take seriously or for fun

Published: Sep 09 2018, 01:01:am

 Friday, August 5, 1994.
AIRHEADS. Written by Rich Wilkes. Music by Carter Burwell. Directed by Michael Lehmann. Running time: 88 minutes. Rated Mature with the B.C. Classifier’s warning: occasional suggestive scenes, very coarse language.
WE CAN REVIEW THIS the easy way . . .
    Pump up the volume, dudes! Airheads is more fun than O.J.'s low-speed car chase, and it's got a beat you can party to.
    . . . or we can review it the hard way.
    Putting the embarrassment of 1991’s Hudson Hawk behind him, director Michael Lehmann manages a comeback by working at the gap. His astutely comedic Airheads explores the fault line separating the rock generations.
    Easy way: With the story of The Lone Rangers, a rock band in search of a break, the movies make the jump from "let's put on a show" to "let's stage an outrage."
    Rangers lead singer Chazz Darby (Brendan Fraser) is a soulful slacker who can't get past the door at Palatine Records. With his bass player Rex (Steve Buscemi) and drummer Pip (Adam Sandler), he takes a demo tape downtown to L.A.'s "Rebel Radio."
    Things get a little out of hand. The group's got guns — some really real-looking water cannons — and end up taking lippy deejay Ian "the Shark" (Joe Mantegna) and the whole place hostage.
    Hard way: In Chester Ogilvie, a sensitive midwestern youth who's embraced the outwardly rebellious persona of alternative rock singer Chazz, Lehmann finds a spokesman for the alienation of Generation X.
    "My entire lifeforce is on this tape," he tells Ian, the aging, bitterly cynical Boom-generation broadcaster. “. . . it’s like death is stalking me.
    "I'm screwed up and average enough that I could write a song that will last forever."
    Chazz, with his barbed-wire and Grim Reaper tattoos, situates himself on the cutting edge of the musical spectrum with: "You actually listen to that Seattle bullshit?"
    Ian, by contrast, is suffering from rock burnout. Reduced to quaffing his beer with Pepto-Bismol chasers, he laments that "rock'n'roll has all been downhill since Lennon died" (a fine echo of John Milner’s comment in American Graffiti that "rock'n'roll's been going down hill ever since Buddy Holly died”).
    Easy way: Suddenly, Lone Rangers is what's happening. They're hot, in simultaneous negotiation with weaselly record producer Jimmie Wing (Judd Nelson) and the LAPD's street-smart Sgt. O'Malley (Ernie Hudson).
    Even Mr. Attitude, the deejay, is impressed by Chazz's integrity. Throughout, the Rangers refuse to identify their style (but, after a passing dog pees on the demo, I think it's safe to call it acid rock).
    Hard: Nor does Lehmann shy away from the issue of sexism in pop culture. Chazz's desperation is prompted by his girlfriend Kayla's (Amy Locane) angry analysis of their situation — "I'm doing the bullshit work and you're living the rock'n'roll life!"
    Easy: The real fun begins when the Rangers discover management's secret plan to change the station's format (and staff) on Sunday at midnight. Goodbye, Rebels; hello, Otis rock (for your listening pleasure in elevating devices).
    Taken seriously or taken for fun — it is a comedy, so you know that nobody's getting killed — Airheads straddles the gap to strike a sly, silly balance.

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1994. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: Adam Sandler, superstar. Got to say I did not see that coming. According to the U.S business magazine Forbes, Sandler ranks eighth on its 2018 list of the World’s highest paid actors. As Steven Colbert was fond of saying (in his Colbert Report persona), the market has spoken. So what did I miss?
    The Brooklyn-born comedian got his start in television, making several appearances during the third season of The Cosby Show (1987-1988) as well as writing and performing on Saturday Night Live from 1990 to 1993. His first feature film appearance was in 1989’s Going Overboard, a movie I managed to miss. Nor did I see his walk-on in Shakes the Clown (1991). Apparently he had a bit part in 1993’s Coneheads, the feature film based on a series of SNL skits that starred Dan Aykroyd and Jane Curtin. I first noticed him in 1994’s Mixed Nuts, one of the worst Christmas movies of all time. I found Sandler’s character, a gormless wannabe songwriter, unfunny. To this day, I don’t get him.
    It's all a matter of taste. From the beginning SNL has trafficked in a style of humour based not on actual wit (in which we laugh with the comedian) but on a comic character's mental, physical or social disability (inviting us to laugh at him). One can celebrate the show's influence as “populist,” or shudder at its infantilization of the popular culture. Personally, I don’t get it . But, again, the market has spoken. SNL begins its 44th season on September 29, 2018.