The amps are on, but nobody’s home.
The year: 1994. Two years before, Brendan Fraser made a name for himself with the not particularly difficult task of upstaging Pauly Shore in Encino Man. Steve Buscemi had had some exposure as an offbeat character actor in offbeat movies, but would not come to wide recognition for two years with the Coen Brothers’ Fargo. Adam Sandler was all the rage on Saturday Night Live, but it would be 1995’s Billy Madison that would make him a viable film star. In the music world, the short-lived Seattle Invasion ends when Kurt Cobain of Nirvana kills himself. The charts are dominated by the light sounds of Bryan Adams and Elton John, plus the resurgence of geriatric rockers Aerosmith (spearheaded by their videos featuring the Lolitaesque Alicia Silverstone). Beavis and Butt-Head are all the rage on MTV. Heavy metal? It’s dead.
Or is it?
Chazz (Fraser), Rex (Buscemi), and Pip (Sandler) form a rollicking headbanging trio. They dream of becoming rock and roll stars, but fame escapes them. Chazz attempts the Quixotic task of getting their demo tape to a record producer, but fails miserably as dictated by the “Quixotic” moniker. The trio tries to appeal directly to the people by breaking into the last remaining heavy metal radio station in the greater Los Angeles area to request that Ian (Joe Mantegna), the aging disc jockey, play their demo tape. They stumble blindly into holding the radio station hostage, and hijinks ensue for the remaining two acts of the film.
Airheads is emblematic of the struggle of modern man. Through the machinations of the capitalist state, the bourgeoisie is held at arm’s length from the quittance accessible vis-à-vis the ruling class. Only through exertion of physical ebullition can the proletariat, embodied by a triumvirate of empowered ciphers, gain redress from the haute monde. The Cærphilly is singularly erect, as it were.
Airheads is as lightweight as its name indicates. There is no deep sociopolitical commentary, only a misplaced and outdated (even by 1994 standards) love of heavy metal. It is a Wayne’s World wannabe come two years too late.
That’s not to say it doesn’t have its charms. The heroic trio of Brendan Fraser, Steve Buscemi, and Adam Sandler are eminently watchable. Fraser has ably proved that he is strong in a variety of roles, be they dramatic, comedic, or as an action hero. Here he gets to use his comedy chops as part of an ensemble, and he shines. Steve Buscemi differs little from other similar weasely roles; he’s Mr. Pink from Reservoir Dogs with a PG-13 vocabulary and a headbanger coiffure. Adam Sandler is famous for playing hyper-goofy, but here he is, believe it or not, rather restrained. He proves that he doesn’t have to be over the top to be funny. Of the other cast, most notable are Joe Mantegna and Michael McKean. Mantegna is an oft-seen character actor, and here he is further proof that character actors do not get enough credit for adding nuance to films. Michael McKean plays the slimeball owner of the heavy metal station who wants to reformat it as an easy listening station. What, did he forget that he is a member of Spinal Tap, the definition of heavy metal excess? Other small roles are filled dutifully by Chris Farley (as a rotund cop, as if he could play any other kind), David Arquette (as a random surf dude hanging around the station), and Michael Richards, then at the zenith of his Seinfeld popularity, making one of several cameos in comedies headlined by SNL alums.
Before delving into the details of the Airheads DVD, I have to give props to Fox. Of late they have released many lesser films at budget prices. This, of course, is not unheard of in the DVD world. What is unheard of is the quality level of these low-priced discs. While they may not be overflowing with supplemental material, Fox has deemed them worthy of dual-layered discs. The space unoccupied by extra features is used to present the main feature with incredibly high (for budget discs, at least) video bitrates. It calls into question the claims of certain studios that their cinephile-grade releases are anything spectacular if competing studios can produce discs with very nearly the same video quality with some supplemental material at nearly half the price to the consumer.
Airheads is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 in an anamorphic transfer. As I alluded in the preceding paragraph, it has a high average video bitrate of 8.17 Mb/sec, placing it on par with Fox’s Die Hard Five-Star Collection release, and very nearly close to what Columbia uses for the Superbit DVDs. The high bitrate obviates digital problems like pixelization, though it does suffer from some source defects, occasional minor edge enhancement, and shimmering in fine details. Audio is available in both Dolby 4.0 Surround and standard 2.0 Surround. Both tracks are very nearly identical, with the edge going to the 4.0 track because of the greater clarity afforded by its higher bitrate. There isn’t much in the way of sound effects in Airheads, as it is a comedy and is more dialogue-centric. The bombastic soundtrack is given extra oomph with the use of the surround channels.
Extras consist of an “Airheads Special Report,” a theatrical trailer, two TV spots, two music videos, and “Fox Flix” trailers. The “Special Report” is a creative promotional featurette patterned after a television news broadcast. It has interviews with the cast (often in character) and crew as if they are on location at the events shown in the movie. The trailer and TV spots are standard fare. The music videos are “Born to Raise Hell” by Motörhead and “Feed the Gods” by White Zombie. Both are full-frame with stereo sound. I really dig White Zombie, so it was cool to see that particular video included. The “Fox Flix” trailer gallery gives Fox a chance to promote other Brendan Fraser movies released by the studio — Bedazzled, Monkeybone, and The Scout.
Fans of lightweight ’90s comedies or of Brendan Fraser or Adam Sandler will find a nice treat if they pick up Airheads. If that doesn’t describe you, why are you still reading this review?