It's a scorching hot day in New York City, and two young businessmen, Larry (Andrew McCarthy) and Richard (Jonathan Silverman) working in the insurance sector have arrived at the office, but the day is too fine for Larry to want to spend it indoors, so suggests they head for the beach. In fact, he insists, and though Richard agrees only if they can take their paperwork with them, where they actually end up is on the roof of the building next to a paddling pool. But it's not all fun and games, as soon they uncover evidence of fraud...
Something their boss Bernie (Terry Kiser) should surely see, but that is where their troubles begin for all three of them. One of the last gasps of eighties comedies, Weekend at Bernie's quickly became a byword for the typically stoopid Hollywood funtime movie, where a high concept was taken as far as it could go with results that were looked down on by the highbrow, and even the middlebrow, but found those who responded to the lowbrow taking up its cause as one of the more amusing efforts of its decade. Whether it stood up well into the twenty-first century was a moot point, but nevertheless for the hardy souls there were rewards.
Hardy souls who were willing to delve into the lesser examples of eighties humour, for while this may have had a killer idea at its heart, devised by Robert Klane (best known in cult circles for his renowned novel and film of extreme bad taste Where's Poppa?), there was a lot of hanging around before the pay-off. Basically the idea of making it seem as if one of the characters was still living and breathing when the opposite was true involved a lot of setting up, so there had to be gangsters introduced, a hitman (Don Calfa), a romantic interest for Richard in Gwen (Catherine Mary Stewart in her final eighties cult movie), then get everyone over to Bernie's island pad.
Bernie of course being the chap who ends up the corpse, but before all that he invites Larry (the gag man) and Richard (the straight man) to hang out at his retreat so they can discuss the anomaly found in one account which is costing the business millions. Naturally Bernie was well aware of this before the boys discovered it, and so are his Mafia associates, meaning the heroes' days will be numbered should the boss get his way. But it's not Larry and Richard who get murdered, as the Mafia decide to get rid of Bernie instead, with the hitman staging a drugs overdose so that nobody gets suspicious - nobody except you know who, that is.
So when they show up for the party they're first to find Bernie deceased, and wonder where this leaves them. For a start, it leaves them with a house full of revellers who do not notice Bernie is dead, and finally the farce is off the starting blocks, a good half hour after the movie began. And against the odds of that opening act, director Ted Kotcheff (who offered himself a most unflattering cameo) took his script and cast and fashioned a handful of very funny moments thereafter, all based around the possibilities of the corpse. There used to be a humour book called 101 Uses for a Dead Cat, and this could have been the human equivalent as Bernie indulges in various activities from having sex to waterskiing in spite of not being in the land of the living. It's not quite enough to make this any kind of classic, but full marks for taking a one-note idea and wringing a few chuckles and giggles out of it. Hard to believe they managed a sequel, though. Music by Andy Summers.