There's plenty of sound and fury in "Airheads," and while it would be extreme to say it adds up to nothing, the antic musical lark certainly doesn't have a lot on its mind. An absurdist variation on "Dog Day Afternoon," the picture is a rather good-natured view of Generation X and the pursuit of rock 'n' roll stardom.
There’s plenty of sound and fury in “Airheads,” and while it would be extreme to say it adds up to nothing, the antic musical lark certainly doesn’t have a lot on its mind. An absurdist variation on “Dog Day Afternoon,” the picture is a rather good-natured view of Generation X and the pursuit of rock ‘n’ roll stardom. While it hits the right chord for a niche audience, don’t expect better than modest domestic returns.
The slim premise finds a trio of “we don’t want to be labeled” musicians desperately trying to get a little bit of attention. Club dates have yet to produce interest from major (or minor) companies, and attempts to get music execs to listen to a demo tape have landed on deaf ears.
So, after ringleader Chazz (Brendan Fraser) gets turfed out by his girlfriend , Kayla (Amy Locane), he tells cronies Rex (Steve Buscemi) and Pip (Adam Sandler) that it’s time to be more aggressive. His plan is to storm rebel radio station KPPX and get their tape played on the air. They all agree that it’s a good plan.
But execution proves more troublesome. After lucking into the security building, their pleas to D.J. Ian the Shark (Joe Mantegna) are returned with dripping cynicism. Further disdain from the station manager gets Chazz downright crazy and he pulls out a semi-automatic. Suddenly the spinners are all ears and ready to comply.
It doesn’t really matter that the boys are packing water pistols — they look real enough. After police surround the station, the rockers have no recourse but to take KPPX hostage and bask in instant media attention.
The logic may be fuzzy-headed to an extreme, but so are the film’s protagonists. Though it’s little more than a one-joke premise, director Michael Lehmann gets maximum mileage from the low-octane script by Rich Wilkes. Wisely, there’s minimal interest accorded the narrative, with emphasis on the off-kilter characters and their social milieu.
Slick and energetic in execution, “Airheads” comes off as a goof that will leave mainstream audiences cold. But somewhere in the margins it hits a nerve that could echo for years in cult heaven and spark brisk ancillary biz.
Though Fraser looks the role, his attitude is a tad too earnest to effect the kind of wacky vision that the material calls for. Cohorts Buscemi and Sandler drift more naturally to the required zaniness.
The large supporting cast are a weird and wonderful melange; there are eccentric perfs by the likes of Michael Richards, Michael McKean, Nina Siemaszko and, with wildly unctuous glee, Judd Nelson as a record exec more than ready to capitalize on the trio’s instant media celebrity.
The anarchic saga could have used more bite or the hint of a threat just to keep things interesting. As it is, it lacks that vital edge that means the difference between merely winding up on the charts and having lasting resonance.
Rex - Steve Buscemi
Pip - Adam Sandler
Ian the Shark - Joe Mantegna
Wilson - Chris Farley
Milo - Michael McKean
Kayla - Amy Locane
Doug Beech - Michael Richards
Jimmie Wing - Judd Nelson
O'Malley - Ernie Hudson
Suzzi - Nina Siemaszko