Airheads

1994, Movie, PG-13, 91 mins

Review

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A moment of silence, please, for rock 'n' roll, the music of social and sexual revolution. TV commercials, Hall of Fame, muzak (where were you when you first heard one of the hits of your youth in an elevator?), Grammy awards: as if all that weren't enough, AIRHEADS comes along to remind us that there isn't even enough lawlessness left in rock 'n' roll to make an anarchic comedy.

Rex (Steve Buscemi), Pip (Adam Sandler), and Chazz (Brendan Fraser) are the Lone Rangers (one of the film's running gags is, of course, that three guys can't be lone), a Los Angeles heavy metal band scrambling to hang onto their miserable lives on the Siberian fringes of the rock 'n' roll life style. Drummer Rex, the group's senior member, works in a toy store and is doing his best to ignore the fact that he's already blown his chance to die before he gets old. Pip, the bass player, cleans pools and scores with girls by virtue of his simple-minded sweetness and the fact that he's in a band. Front man Chazz, determined not to compromise his music, is supported by his girlfriend Kayla (Amy Locane), who's tired of waiting for her chance to misbehave in chauffeured limousines and swank hotel rooms. Desperate and out of ideas, the guys decide to invade the local head-banging radio station and get too-cool-for-words Rebel Radio DJ Ian (Joe Mantegna) to play their music on the air. What they don't know is that they've chosen the very day that sleazy, opportunistic station manager Milo (Michael McKean) has announced his intention to switch the station over to an easy listening format.

Quite by accident, the three idiots create the impression that they're taking over the station and holding the employees hostage. Purportedly comic complications ensue, as the police are called, an ever-growing mob of metal heads congregates outside the station and the world waits for the Lone Rangers to make their demands. The trouble is, they don't have any demands. They just want to play their demo tape, which they've accidentally destroyed; when Ian turns over the mike and tells them to address their fans, all they can think of to say is "Rock 'n' Roll!" It all ends with an outdoor concert, a brief jail stint and, yes, rock 'n' roll stardom.

Directed by Michael Lehman (HEATHERS) and written by Rick Wilkes, AIRHEADS commits the cardinal sin of satire: it's not sure what it's making fun of. On the one hand, it mocks the venality of the music business and the bone-headed conformity of know-nothing rock fans; Chazz, Pip, and Rex spout angry young man rhetoric while playing music whose greatest distinction is that it's bland and undistinguished. On the other, it seems to want to take the Lone Rangers seriously when they evoke the rock 'n' roll philosophy and declare that they won't ever sell out their music. Under the leather and the metal studs and the sneering attitudes, AIRHEADS is all warm fuzzies: whether the filmmakers still love the music of their rebellious years too much to make fun of it, or are afraid of alienating young audiences, the result is the same. The industry--always a safe target--takes all the hits (such as they are), but the music remains a sacred thing. And there can be no sacred cows in satire.

Mocking rock 'n' roll is nothing new. 1959's EXPRESSO BONGO is a sharply funny look at the London Soho club scene that engendered Cliff Richard and similar bubblegum idols of the pre-Beatles era, and Rob Reiner's 1984 THIS IS SPINAL TAP (co-written by and co-starring Michael McKean, trapped in an obvious one-note role in AIRHEADS) is nothing short of devastating in its portrayal of aging, witless monsters of rock and the money-making machine that keeps them staggering around stage in leather pants and bondage gear. "It's such a fine line between stupid and clever," one of the dimwits remarks, and while SPINAL TAP is almost always on the right side of that line, AIRHEADS is almost always elsewhere. (Profanity, sexual situations.) leave a comment

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