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By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 05, 1994


Michael Lehmann
Brendan Fraser;
Steve Buscemi;
Adam Sandler;
Joe Mantegna
Children under 13 should be accompanied by a parent

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Only fitfully amusing, "Airheads" is built on the premise that heavy metal is dumb, radio sucks, and record labels are corrupt.


The problem is that "Airheads" is a satire that's unsure of its primary target. The plot line -- a frustrated metal band unable to get a break commandeers a radio station -- is sketchy, and all of its elements have been played out elsewhere. "FM" dealt with a radio station takeover much more pithily; the cerebral "This Is Spinal Tap" took care of heavy-metal mannerisms forever, while "Wayne's World" defined the music's audience. Even the comedic hostage situation has been played out in "Dog Day Afternoon."

The flaccid impact of "Airheads" must be blamed mostly on Richard Wilkes's uninspired script. Certainly director Michael Lehmann does his best to perk things up and gets some help from a cast superior to its material. Lehmann made his debut with "Heathers," one of the most wickedly incisive teen-angst films of all time, and "Airheads" could have used one or two of his Heathers. It opted for the wrong one, casting Amy Locane as Kayla, a Heather Locklear look-alike who is girlfriend to Chazz (Brendan Fraser).

Chazz is the leader of the Lone Rangers, a motley crew of Los Angeles metalheads who can't get anyone to listen to their demo (Chazz is unceremoniously kicked out of one label's office as the film begins). He, drummer Pip (Adam Sandler) and bassist Rex (Steve Buscemi) then decide to sneak into the studios of KPPX to beg for airplay. Unfortunately, their earnestness is met with sarcasm by cynical deejay Ian the Shark (a slumming Joe Mantegna) and by insults from sleazy program director Milo (Michael McKean, who knows this is not "Spinal Tap II").

Angered, Chazz pulls out a realistic-looking Uzi water pistol, and before you can say "rock-and-roll," a hostage situation has developed, along with the band's best shot at airplay.

Sporting flowing locks, Fraser is much too earnest and likable as the duncy Chazz. He's actually the least interesting Ranger: Buscemi's Rex is a self-absorbed, aging heavy metal dude, a Charles Manson on Valium and Jerry Lewis scripts; Sandler's Pip is quiet cool, a sweet simpleton whose Zenlike innocence allows him to be equal parts Shemp and Casanova.

The film also features cameos of various sizes, from Michael "Kramer" Richards doing his familiar physical shtick as an uncaptured hostage worming his way through the station's duct system, and Chris Farley and Ernie Hudson as kindly inept fuzz. Lemmy of Motorhead and Kurt Loder of MTV also flash briefly. There's not much here for women, and neither Locane nor Nina Siemaszko ("Wild Orchids 2") are well served in their bimbo roles.

Closer to the Three Stooges than Iggy's Stooges, the Lone Rangers suddenly find themselves courted by sleazy label head Jimmy Wing (Judd Nelson in the world's ugliest goatee). Wing clearly knows the profits of controversy and the potential for sales on dead rockers. So does Milo, who even tied up tries to swing last-minute advertising specials, telling one buyer, "If the cops kill them before the spots run, you'll get a complete refund."

That's typical of the hit-and-miss humor in "Airheads," most of it determinedly lowbrow. Even Beavis and Butt-head get to call in their critique. Naturally, they think the Lone Rangers suck.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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