Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Title: Airheads (1994)
Studio Line: 20th Century Fox - The amps are on, but nobody's home.

In this hilarious spoof of the music industry, three intelligence challenged rock 'n' rollers (Brendan Fraser, Steve Buscemi, Adam Sandler) decide to take drastic action after their music continually falls on deaf ears. They break into a radio station, hoping to get their demo played on the air. But when the deejay (Joe Mantegna) and station manager (Michael McKean) refuse to play their song, the boys have no choice but to take the entire radio station hostage.

Director: Michael Lehmann
Cast: Brendan Fraser, Steve Buscemi, Adam Sandler, Chris Farley, Michael McKean, Judd Nelson
DVD: Widescreen 1.85:1/16X9; audio English Dolby Digital 4.0 & Dolby Surround 2.0, French Dolby Surround 2.0; subtitles English, Spanish; closed-captioned; single sided - double layered; 19 chapters; rated PG-13; 92 min.; $19.98; 10/2/01.
Supplements: Airheads Special Report Featurette; Two Music Videos; Trailer; TV Spots; Fox Flix.
Purchase: DVD

Picture/Sound/Extras: A-/B+/D+

Because I firmly believe that the world revolves around me, I regard the DVD release of 1994’s Airheads as something that occurred to alleviate my humiliation. Back last spring, I reviewed Tapeheads, a movie I requested simply because I confused it with Airheads. Rather than let me flail about helplessly, the good folks at Fox took pity on me and stepped up their release schedule of the movie I thought I would see months ago.

Either that, or they figured it’d make sense to release some Brendan Fraser DVDs on the same day that The Mummy Returns hit shelves. Nah - that couldn’t be the real explanation, could it?

In any case, I was moderately happy to finally revisit Airheads. Actually, though the Fraser tie-in makes sense, he’s not the most famous cast member of the film. Airheads includes a lot of now-successful actors. In addition to Fraser and his Mummy franchise, we have Steve Buscemi and Adam Sandler, two men who aren’t strangers to flicks that grossed more than $100 million. Airheads appeared before all of their hits, and it didn’t do much to bolster their careers; according to IMDB, the movie took in a mere $5 million. Ouch!

That figure surprised me. I didn’t recall Airheads as a hit, but I certainly didn’t think of it as such a bomb. I saw it theatrically and remembered it as a modestly funny piece that featured the guy from Encino Man, Crazy Spoon Head from Saturday Night Live, and some creepy bug-eyed dude I didn’t recognize.

Airheads follows the exploits of a struggling rock band called the Lone Rangers. Chazz (Fraser) leads the group and makes the most forceful attempts to snag them a record contract. He fails to do so with regularity but after he learns that another band got their start when deejay Ian the Shark (Joe Mantegna) played their demo on the air, he convinces bassist Rex (Buscemi) and drummer Pip (Sandler) to go with him to a local radio station to convince him to do the same.

Unfortunately, things don’t go well, so Rex whips out a toy Uzi stocked with pepper sauce. Of course, no one recognizes it’s not real, and the Rangers have themselves some hostages. All they want is to play their demo, but the tape machine eats it and they have to find the backup. Unfortunately, it’s in the hands of Chazz’s currently peeved girlfriend Kayla (Amy Locane), and she’s MIA. After the police arrive, negotiator Sergeant O’Malley (Ernie Hudson) sends young cop Officer Wilson (Chris Farley) to find her while he deals with the band’s demands.

On the inside, the Rangers hold Ian, sleazy station manager Milo (Michael McKean), and a few others. Despite this status, most of the hostages become friendly with the boys - very friendly in the case of receptionist Suzzy (Nina Siemaszco). Anyway, the rest of the movie shows the story as it unfolds and enters more and more comic complications.

The strongest aspect of Airheads undoubtedly was its cast. In addition to those already mentioned, it included folks like Michael Richards and David Arquette, and with such a fine group of old pros and then-newer talents, it’d be hard for the final result to go too far astray. Most of the funny moments found in the film revolved around interesting line readings and personality added to the material by the actors; they helped make it much more interesting than it could have been. Hey, we even got a funny cameo from Beavis and Butt-head!

Nonetheless, it remained a fairly drab piece. The premise of the unlikely kidnappers seemed flat, and Rich Wilkes’ script lacked much wit or flair. This wasn’t a lowest-common-denominator flick, but it didn’t deliver many clever or surprising moments. For the most part, the comedy stayed with the obvious and didn’t do much to stray from that path.

Director Michael Lehman also kept things ordinary. Airheads moved on a very clear A to B to C structure that allowed little creativity or excitement. For most of the flick, the questions didn’t concern if something would happen, but when. Predictability isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but in this case, it seemed like something that made the end result less enjoyable; the movie appeared to know it was going nowhere special, so it plodded along to that destination.

Ultimately, Airheads provided a pretty modest experience. The fine cast helped make it generally watchable and occasionally funny, but as a whole, it felt like a bland piece that was cobbled together from other works. I didn’t mind the time I spent with it, but I think it now stands mainly as a curiosity to those who want to see some popular performers in an earlier film.

Today’s spooky DVD coincidence: as I’ve noted in reviews such as my The Fifth Element piece, every once in a while I find strange connections between movies I’ve watched back to back. The same thing occurred today. I checked out the horror flick compilation Boogeymen before Airheads. In the former, we hear a White Zombie song that connects to the program’s title, while the band actually perform in the latter. Creepy but true!

The DVD:

Airheads appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While I didn’t expect much from this movie, the picture offered a very pleasant surprise, as it contained very few concerns.

Sharpness consistently looked excellent. From start to finish the movie seemed nicely crisp and detailed, with virtually no instances of softness or fuzziness. It was a tight and clear image that appeared solid. I detected no examples of jagged edges or moiré effects, and the picture also seemed to be free of significant edge enhancement. Print flaws were similarly minor. A little grain crept in on a few occasions, and I saw a speck or two, but as a whole, this was a clean and fresh picture.

Colors looked very vibrant and rich. The movie showed a naturalistic but varied palette, and the hues always appeared nicely distinct and accurate, with no signs of noise, bleeding or other concerns. Instead, they were vivid and bold and they seemed very pleasing. Also solid were the black levels, which always came across as deep and dense, and shadow detail also appeared clear and appropriately opaque. Low-light situations such as Officer Wilson’s trek into the nightclub looked very well defined and clean. Ultimately, Airheads provided a satisfying and solid viewing experience.

Also quite good was the Dolby Digital 4.0 soundtrack of Airheads. Not surprisingly, the soundfield mainly focused on the forward channels, but in the front it managed to offer a rather broad and engaging affair. Logically, music dominated the show, and the score provided terrific stereo separation and boasted a generally lively and encompassing mix. The rock songs played throughout the film weren’t as involving as Carter Burwell’s score, but they still managed to display reasonably strong breadth.

Effects remained a fairly minor aspect of the mix for the most part, but they could become active at times. Most of these occasions occurred during the early parts of the film that took place outdoors. For example, Chazz’s motorcycle moved nicely across the forward channels, and other ambient elements work well also. Much of the film took place indoors, which limited these opportunities, but the track still seemed to provide good atmosphere. The surrounds largely stuck with reinforcement of the front, but they did so effectively, so I won’t complain; they weren’t strong partners, but they complemented the action.

Audio quality seemed to be positive across the board. A few lines of dialogue sounded mildly sibilant, but most of the speech came across as appropriately natural and distinct, with no other signs of edginess or any problems related to intelligibility. Effects were consistently crisp and accurate. They showed decent dynamic range and lacked any distortion.

Not surprisingly, music offered the best aspects of the mix, and again Burwell’s score was the finest element. The generally percussive track demonstrated excellent bass response and solid clarity at all times; I was very impressed with the overall depth and vividness of the music. Other songs fared a little less well, as they seemed mildly muddy in comparison. Nonetheless, they remained acceptably clear and strong, so I won’t complain. All in all, the soundtrack of Airheads was a positive piece that worked well for the movie.

Although Airheads isn’t a special edition, it does provide a few minor extras. The most significant is the Airheads Special Report, 14-minute and 35-second promotional featurette issued at the time of the film’s theatrical release. Those looking for any form of information about the creation of Airheads will leave sorely disappointed, as this sucker exists solely to promote the movie. However, it does so in a fun manner. Staged as a TV news report, we find many film clips as well as unique “interviews” with some of the characters. Nothing special appears in these bits, but they let the program become more entertaining and compelling than most.

Two music videos appear on the DVD. We get “Born to Raise Hell” by Motorhead with Ice-T and Whitfield Crane plus “Feed the Gods” by White Zombie. The former uses the time-honored “movie clip mixed with lip-synch performance” mode, though it tosses in a minor theme in which the musicians disrupt a screening of Airheads. The latter features fewer movie snippets as it mainly goes for a performance simulation, albeit one interspersed with a bunch of weird imagery. Neither clip seems exceptional, but both were fairly interesting and watchable.

Lastly, Airheads includes a slew of ads. We find the film’s theatrical trailer plus both US and international TV spots. In addition, the “Fox Flix” area tosses in trailers for fellow Fraser efforts Monkeybone, Bedazzled and The Scout.

Airheads isn’t great comedy, but it offers some decent moments. Most of these stem from its terrific cast; without them, it’d be a much more ordinary piece. Actually, it’s already very ordinary, so I suspect it’d be a total dog with lesser actors. As it stands, the movie seems to be moderately entertaining but unmemorable. The DVD offers surprisingly terrific visuals plus good sound and a smattering of minor extras. Fans of the performers should give it a rental.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.9411 Stars Number of Votes: 51
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