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By Kevin McManus
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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Their guns are loaded with pepper sauce. Their heads are stuffed with fantasies of rock 'n' roll renown. Spewing from their mouths are gobs of profane, inane, hilarious insults and demands.

Get down on all fours and put your hands up: You're about to be taken hostage by this year's maddest rock group, the Lone Rangers.

There are three, yes three, Lone Rangers -- Pip, Chazz and Rex (Adam Sandler, Brendan Fraser and Steve Buscemi). They've got a new song on tape, but as unfledged rockers they've been unable to get it on the air. Solution? Sneak into an L.A. radio station and beg the man at the mike.

"Get out!" the deejay snaps, and Rex impulsively pulls a toy gun from his backpack. And the fun begins.

Like "Dog Day Afternoon," "Airheads" tells the story of hostage-takers, their captives and the crowd that cavorts outside the crime scene. Like "Spinal Tap," it mines the rich vein of rock 'n' roll cliches. Like a good "Seinfeld" episode, it offers funny interludes that focus on the travails of Michael Richards (who's Kramer on the TV show and a scared accountant here).

So this is, what, a ripoff of two old movies and a current prime-time hit? Yes, that about sums "Airheads" up.

Somehow, though, this film manages to have the feel of an original -- and very effective -- piece of comedy. In part this is due to the delicate touch of director Michael Lehmann ("Heathers"), who never allows the film to slip into a silly mode.

Well, almost never. There are those shots of Richards crawling through ventilation shafts, spying on a lovemaking couple, setting himself on fire and crashing down from a ceiling to a cluttered desktop.

But for the most part, "Airheads" presents itself as an earnest yarn with a sharp comic edge. Fraser wins our sympathy as Chazz, a struggling musician who can't stand having his work ignored. Throughout the film he stays angry -- at the girlfriend who's tired of supporting him, at his squabbling bandmates, at the deejay who won't play his song.

Joe Mantegna is terrific as said deejay, Ian, who early on is irked by Chazz but eventually recognizes that the lad has genuine integrity. As the siege goes on, the two of them form a bond that gives the movie a solid center.

All around them, situations sizzle and smoke. Chris Farley plays a cop who gets sent to a packed nightclub to find Chazz's girlfriend. Arriving, he scans the crowd and disgustedly repeats the description of the person he's seeking: "Blond wearing something tight and black. Great." The band members, hoping to cop an insanity plea after the siege ends, make a list of eccentric demands, including a helmet full of cottage cheese and nude photos of Bea Arthur. And then, of course, there's Richards hanging upside down through a dislodged vent, pointing a machine gun and barking, "Awright, everybody freeze!"

At the climax, alas, the movie does lapse into extreme silliness. But the scene in question is mercifully short. And on the whole, "Airheads" is heavily entertaining.

AIRHEADS: Lots of profanity, very mild violence.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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