Tapeheads (1988) / Comedy
MPAA Rated: R for language and adult humor
Running Time: 93 min.
Cast: John Cusack, Tim Robbins, Mary Crosby, Clu Gulager, Katy Boyer, Sam Moore, Junior Walker, Connie Stevens, Don Cornelius, King Cotton, Lyle Alzado
Cameo: Coati Mundi, Martha Quinn, Bob Goldthwait, Jello Biafra, Weird Al Yankovic, Ted Nugent, Doug E. Fresh, Michael Nesmith, Fishbone, Tyra Ferrell, Courtney Love
Director: Bill Fishman
Screenplay: Bill Fishman, Peter McCarthy
Review published February 9, 2003
I've often wondered how a film starring substantial, popular actors like John Cusack (One Crazy Summer, Stand by Me) and Tim Robbins (Bull Durham, Top Gun) could remain so obscure to the majority of video renters that the majority of video stores don't even carry it. I am also surprised it hasn't been widely lauded by fans of the stars as well, since both give very impressive and energetic performances throughout this quirky comedy. Tapeheads is a cult comedy, and by the very essence of the term, it is a film loved by a small percentage of people while the remainder of the mainstream film viewers scratch their heads in bewilderment as to why. I happen to fall into the minority that thinks Tapeheads a unique, and often very funny film, that deserves much more attention than it has, and probably ever will have.
Cusack and Robbins play Ivan and Josh, lifelong friends, sharing everything together, including their love for a no-longer-great rhythm and blues duo known as the Swanky Modes. Their inability to keep jobs keeps them on the move, and one day during a brainstorming session they decide to pool their talents and start their own video production company, Video Aces. Among their many projects, one brings them just a tad too much trouble, when they are given a videotape of a leading presidential candidate caught doing some perverse sexual acts, and the boys have to watch their back while also trying to make a living in the music video industry.
Tapeheads is a pure joy to watch, a funny, irreverent comedy that evokes laughs just by the sheer absurdity of the situations. The humor tends to be a bit broad, from satire to slapstick, sometimes very black humor as well. Perhaps the film does get a little too ambitious resulting in the loss of many viewers early on, as some may just find it too downright weird to be palatable. However, it is because of this ambitiousness that I enjoy Tapeheads as much as I do. It takes the gambles many comedies of its era rarely do. You'll find yourself cracking up hysterically at its silliness, and begin to realize that it is successful 9 times out of 10 in a pull-out-all-stops effort to make it as fun a movie as possible.
Even if you aren't into the actual plot, which is admittedly pretty dumb, Tapeheads is fun just for picking out the various cameos. Weird Al Yankovic, Don Cornelius, Doug E. Fresh, Ted Nugent and many others make an appearance, and the soundtrack is an all-star cast of fringe pop and punk groups like Devo, Circle Jerks, Dead Kennedys, and Fishbone. In fact, there is even some music done by the stars, and trivia buffs should especially note a song done by Robbins as Bob Roberts, which he would later sing again in his movie of the same name.
If you are a person who enjoys unusual and completely off-center films, Tapeheads gets a definite recommendation. Don't expect a great story or grand characterizations. Just sit back, take in all the goofy performances and terrific music, and laugh your silly, offbeat ass off.
©2003 Vince Leo