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Review: At best, only one joke in '8 Heads'

Spade and Pesci

Joe Pesci stars in a no-joke comedy

April 19, 1997
Web posted at: 6:17 p.m. EDT (2217 GMT)

From Reviewer Paul Tatara

(CNN) -- If Joe Pesci were a major league shortstop, his range would be approximately no steps in either direction. Line the ball right at him, though, and you've got yourself a Hall of Famer ... or an Oscar winner. He does what little he can with the miserable material he's given in "8 Heads in a Duffel Bag," but, at this point, saying that Pesci makes a convincing loose-cannon gangster is like saying Albert Einstein makes a convincing smart guy with a lot of split-ends. Duh, as the kids are apt to say.

8 Heads in a Duffel Bag
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movie icon (4.9M/1 min. 53 sec. QuickTime movie trailer)


This is not a movie, it's a feature-length title, and I'll say one thing for it -- it lives up to its billing. This is a one-joke comedy only if you think that people freaking out every time they see eight heads in a duffel bag is the height of sparkling wit. If you happen to have a brain (head required) this is actually a trail-blazing piece of work -- a no-joke comedy.

Pesci plays an ill-tempered mobster named Tommy because he always plays an ill-tempered mobster named Tommy. It's a law. Tommy is ordered by his superiors to deliver eight heads in a duffel bag to the big boss. The boss wants proof that some rivals have actually been "offed," so this is how he decides to get the proof, as opposed to something more unorthodox like looking at a photograph.

'Weekend at Bernie's' with handles

That approach, of course, would mean that there would not be eight heads in a duffel bag. It's important that there be eight heads in a duffel bag because, if there aren't, no one will freak out and start screaming when they see eight heads in a duffel bag. That would also mean that no one would be able to repeatedly punch, gouge, or kick eight heads in a duffel bag. Could it be possible that some studio executive actually viewed this as "'Weekend at Bernie's' with handles?"

Spade and Comeau

Soon, Tommy gets on an airplane because he has to deliver the eight heads in a duffel bag in person. This is where he meets up with Charlie (Andy Comeau), an affable college student who is flying off to Mexico to spend spring break with his girlfriend and her parents. I know you won't believe this, but Charlie has a duffel bag full of clothes that looks just like the one Tommy has. The only difference is that the one Tommy has contains eight heads. Amazingly, things get confused at the baggage claim area, and Charlie walks away with eight heads in a duffel bag! This baggage mix-up is a highly original plot device that has never been utilized before in the entire history of cinema.

The forgettable Dyan Cannon

Hamilton and Cannon

Charlie's girlfriend is played by Kristy Swanson, who isn't any good, but I'm assuming it was peer pressure. Her parents are played by George Hamilton (whose head is very tan) and Dyan Cannon. There was a period in the 1970s when Cannon was one of our better comic actresses, but I can't remember the last time I saw her in a movie. Ten minutes after this one was over, I still couldn't.

To be fair, she generates just about the only amusing moment in the entire dreadful enterprise when she enters Charlie's hotel room and suddenly stumbles upon ... take a wild guess. Her over-the-top response is pretty funny until she dives for a table full of sedatives, swallows a handful, and washes them down with a bottle of booze. The only target audience I could imagine for that joke would be Keith Moon, and he won't be attending.

David Spade needs a new shtick

towel slap

Eventually, Tommy winds up going after the heads, but not until he "amusingly" tortures two of Charlie's frat buddies to find out where Charlie has gone. The buddies are played by Todd Louiso and David Spade. I think Spade has finally played out his laconic smart-aleck routine, which means that he'll probably get to do it in another seven or eight movies before everyone stops hiring him. He's been known to be funny in small doses, like in his old "Saturday Night Live" skits, but the same sententious approach to every line he delivers gets incredibly tiresome over the course of 90 minutes. Besides that, he makes you think of Chris Farley whenever you see him. That alone makes him a sort of comic Typhoid Mary.

The director and screenwriter is Tom Schulman, who somehow won an Academy Award for writing "Dead Poet's Society." I guess in this case he was just in over his heads.


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