When Airheads first came out back in 1994, it wasn’t at all what I was expecting. I was a fan of Saturday Night Live. I was 14 years old with unrefined tastes. So when I heard that Adam Sandler, Encino Man, and Chris Farley were all in a film about rock n roll, I thought it was going to be a knock down, drag out laugh fest. Going into to see the film with those expectations, I was greatly disappointed. Years later, as I thought back to this film of my youth, I realized I had misjudged this little movie greatly. By no means was this film a piece of cinematic genius, but it was a funnier film that I gave it credit for. With a cast made up of some great characters actors, a fast and energetic flow and a plot line that oddly pays tribute to Dog Day Afternoon, Airheads is a fun movie about never letting the man keep you down. And thanks to the fine people at Anchor Bay, I got to revisit the movie as it makes its debut on Blu ray.
Airheads is the story of Chaz, Rex and Pip, 3 Calfornia rockers who are looking for a break. Nobody will sign ’em. Nobody will even listen to their demo tape. So they do the only thing that makes sense to do. They take a few plastic guns that look real and hold up Rebel Radio, their local radio station. They take the place hostage to get their demo played live on the air. That’s perfectly logical, right? This turns into a media frenzy. Cops set up a perimeter outside the station. Groups of young rockers start showing up in droves to get a glimpse of these radio rebels! What started out as a simple wish for their song to be heard becomes a felony in the making that will make this fresh young band, The Lone Rangers (can you even pluralize the Lone Ranger?), Rock n Roll superstars….as long as they get out in one piece.
The film has a delightfully silly premise that sets the stage for some fantastic character performances. Brendon Fraser, Steve Buscemi and Adam Sandler have great chemistry as the the Lone Rangers. This film was before Sandler got famous in films for talking like an idiot. As Pip, Sandler is a nice, well mannered guy who has a “quiet cool” about him that makes up for his lack of knowledge. His timing is impeccable and I really wish he would’ve stuck to ensemble films like this one instead of where his career took him. It’s obvious from this showing that he excelled in a group environment (probably why I enjoyed him more on SNL then any of his solo films). Fraser, who at the time was the pretty boy of the hour with School Ties only a couple of years before this, does a great job playing the insensitive jerk frontman who thinks his songs are deep and his message is deeper. Buscemi is fantastic acting as the glue between these two performances, tying them together as the angry base player. The trio have the perfect mix of stupidity and confidence that one would look for in bands of that era. If this wasn’t good enough, they’re backed up by a stellar ensemble cast that while at the time was nothing really to boast about, proves to be the backbone of this small picture. Joe Mantegna plays Ian, the disgruntled and alcoholic deejay who feels like Rock n Roll is dead. Michael McKean plays his boss, Milo Jackson, the program director who doesn’t even like music. Michael Richards is Doug Beech, the accountant who’s looking for a climb up the corporate ladder but instead ends up climbing through the ventilation shaft. And Ernie Hudson and Chris Farley play a pair of cops, one a vet on the force and the other a by the book rookie, who are trying to maintain order outside the station. All deliver some fine comedic moments and even a few heartfelt ones as well. Even David Arquette is entertaining as a stoned surfer dude who works at Rebel Radio. Nina Siemaszko, Reg E. Cathey and Marshall Bell round out the cast and each brings their comic talents to the forefront. There’s even a cameo from Harold Ramis. All in all, the talents of the cast sell this film even with its slightly predictable, lacking plot.
The story itself is very unrealistic. There’s no getting around that. There are multiple moments in the film that the guys would’ve been taken down by the cops. But instead, the situation gets bigger and bigger and more out of control. But it’s the fantastical elements that really let the comedy shine in this piece. And while the plot might follow a certain formula, the dialogue produces some genius exchanges that will be much appreciated by many a music fan, like this one:
Who would win in a wrestling match, Lemmy or God?
(Rex imitates a buzzer going off)
Wrong dickhead, trick question. Lemmy IS God.
Some of the references are very of the time (there is a big scene involving invoking the memory of the Rodney King beating) but overall, the story and comedy is timeless and the pacing is spot on. At its heart, the film is fun and that’s all you really want from a flick like this. It’s also great to go back and see all of these actors when they were younger and a bit more raw in their performances. I would highly recommend you buy a copy of Airheads when it hits blu-ray tomorrow courtesy of Anchor Bay. It was fun revisiting this cult 90s comedy and I think it’s a kick for any rock fans out there.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!
Past Rentals Under the Radar: