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STUDENT BLOG #8: 'Airheads,' A Cure for 'Steve Buscemi Amnesia'
September 3, 2011  | By David Bianculli

[Just before school starts for a new term, here's a welcome entry by one of my former film and TV students -- who sympathizes with fans of HBO's Boardwalk Empire who may not remember exactly where they've seen the actor before. This student gives the condition a medical term -- Steve Buscemi Amnesia -- and also provides a cure, with a 1994 movie televised this weekend... -- DB]

By Devin Arnold

So you love HBO's Boardwalk Empire, and you're watching it in reruns and eagerly awaiting its second-season return Sept. 25. That is a great thing.


Only whenever the show comes on, you find yourself thinking, "Boy, that Nucky Thompson sure is cool. I wonder why this guy playing him isn't more famous!"

That's not such a great thing -- but it's going to be okay. You're just suffering from a common condition known as Steve Buscemi Amnesia (SBA), a completely real ailment that would have its own Wikipedia page if only they would give me back the ability to edit Wikipedia.

It turns out that you've seen Steve Buscemi in countless movies that you already love, as well as at least three movies that you haven't seen but pretend that you have, so your friends will stop yelling at you. I could list all those movies to you - but within ten minutes you'd have forgotten reading it, due to your SBA.

Instead, I'm going to cure you once and for all by steering you towards one of Buscemi's most underrated deep tracks -- Airheads, a 1994 movie being televised Sunday, Sept. 4 at 8 p.m. ET on Fox Movie Channel.

Airheads-buscemi-fraser-san.jpgAirheads is a simple rock comedy in which Chazz (Brendan Fraser), Rex (the man himself: Buscemi), and Pip (Adam Sandler) accidentally hijack a record station in a misguided attempt to get their demo tape played on the air.

This relatively simple premise is filled out by excellent casting. Brendan Fraser turns in a performance that shows us exactly why he is still allowed to make movies even after Bedazzled: he's charming. If you're susceptible to charm, you're going to be charmed. It's just what he does.

Meanwhile, Buscemi brings most of the humor, and a sense of rock-and-roll credibility Fraser can't provide. And Sandler, playing third wheel, manages to deliver a character stupid enough to be adorable, but smart enough to survive. It's the kind of dialed-back performance that shows off true talent, and makes the upcoming Jack and Jill a tragedy instead of a mistake.

The cast is rounded out with a few other recognizable names. Ernie Hudson and Chris Farley are under-utilized as a pair of mismatched policemen who could easily carry another movie. Michael Richards and Marshall Bell also have an interesting chemistry, and a story line all to themselves. And Judd Nelson manages to be there too -- although he does little else.

The music in this movie is somewhat less spot-on than the casting. It seems like the music department blew the entire budget on a few great rock songs (all of which are placed very well), and didn't have enough left over for the original composition done for the film to sound any better than '90s videogame music. Fortunately, there isn't nearly enough original score for the quality to be a major distraction.

So the cast is great, and the premise seems harmless, the music is serviceable, and now you want to know why you've never heard of this movie. Well, that's probably because almost nobody liked it.

Critics and audiences alike, for the most part, were not fond of Airheads. They just didn't think it was funny. But since I'm playing doctor here, I'm going to diagnose this, too.


Airheads is a parody, and for a parody to hit well the audience has to be kind of separated from the thing they intend to laugh at. People saw a parody of the early '90s and thought, because it was still the early '90s, that they were watching a parody of rock culture. If a comedy about 2010 came out this year, you wouldn't recognize it for what it is either. So let's take a step back and look at Airheads in the proper context.

A cassette tape plays a pivotal role in the plot. Beavis and Butt-Head have a cameo, as does Lemmy Kilmister, and the band White Zombie. The opening credits are ripped straight from the style of stop-motion music videos that dominated MTV when MTV still played music videos. A radio station plays a pivotal role in the plot (and is switching from rock to easy listening).

Kenny G, Heather Locklear, Sting, and Tommy Lee are all name dropped. Lip syncing is a major moral outrage. If you made a movie about the 1990s today, and did not include at least five of those things, they'd take you out into the street and beat you with a Crash Test Dummy doll (also shown in the film).

And under the bright light of 2011, it's hard to fathom why audiences didn't connect with the humor in Airheads. One of the funniest movie moments I've seen in a while comes in the form of Brendan Fraser trying to determine whether Harold Ramis is an undercover cop. The questions that he asked made me laugh so hard that I had to pause the movie.

And even something as simple as the slang terms used by the characters is too incredibly '90s not to be hilarious. "Bozo deluxe" and "Bag that!" are two of many phrases that, until this movie, I had forgotten anybody was ever silly enough to use.


Although it's funny, I won't accuse Airheads of being a classic. It's not. But it is certainly on par with The Wedding Singer, another Sandler-Buscemi collaboration that parodies a specific time period, yet saw a great deal more popularity.

The difference is that The Wedding Singer was released 13 years after the year in which it was set. Thirteen years was enough time for people to realize just how ridiculous the '80s were. One year was not enough time for people to realize how ridiculous 1993 was.

We've had 18 years now to let it absorb. It's time to finally give Airheads credit for being a great way to get a laugh -- and a fantastic way to cure your Steve Buscemi Amnesia.


Devin Arnold is a Radio-Television-Film major at Rowan University.

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