It’s hard to believe that at one point in time, Brendan Fraser was a bigger star than Adam Sandler. Where in Adam Sandler was a general up and comer in “Airheads,” Fraser takes top billing, even over character actor Steve Buscemi. While a childhood favorite, “Airheads” is one of those nineties comedies that hasn’t aged well at all. Surely, back then it was a fun film and has survived mainly by fans of Sandler, and nostalgiaddicts from the nineties, but objectively “Airheads” is a lame comedy that is sparse on laughs. I have fond memories of watching this movie repeatedly when it was on VHS, but these days it’s merely just a sub-par vehicle for its cast of character actors.
An amalgam of “This is Spinal Tap” and “Dog Day Afternoon,” 1994’s comedy about an aspiring rock band is about as PG-13 as it gets. Working as pool boys, a trio of aspiring rockers are desperate to have anyone listen to their music. Calling themselves “The Lone Rangers” (get used to it, it becomes a consistent running joke), they devise a trick to get in to the local rock radio station and decide to take it hostage with water pistols that resemble actual guns. What begins as a mere stunt to become noticed by record executives becomes a national incident, as the trio begin to look for a way to escape their ploy without heading to jail, all the while trying to convince the station to give their music a chance. All the while, they’re forced to endure the station’s assorted characters including the Radio DJ Ian, and his uptight boss Milo, as played by Michael McKean. This is the brief nod to Spinal Tap the film takes, but really doesn’t live up to the comic potential. McKean just doesn’t work as the film’s obligatory heel since McKean is the original rocker.
You just can’t turn David St. Hubbins in to a villain. The Trio of rockers really aren’t all that entertaining or eccentric when the script really puts them to the test, and most of the time their characters are unlikable wannabes that seem more unlikable than charming, when the chips are down. Ironically the weakest link in the comedy is Fraser who seems forced in his role as head of the band Chazz, while Adam Sandler and Steve Buscemi are able to provide some occasional giggles here and there. There’s also a great sub-plot involving Chris Farley, who plays a riot cop looking for Chazz’s girlfriend who owns the only demo from the band that they can play on the radio, ensuring the end of the hostage stand off. This is one of the few roles where Farley plays a character who seems smarter than everyone else, and always gets the upper hand on anyone that tries to belittle him for his weight or appearance.
Much of “Airheads” feels like pseudo-rock fetishizing with no real idea on what modern music is supposed to be. The trio of rockers claim to be modern musicians but dwell an awful lot on classic rock, and they even quiz a faux-record executive on Van Halen at one point. “Airheads” gets a pass from mostly everyone by virtue of sentimentality, but as a comedy it’s just a forgettable vehicle for its stars. Everyone in the film has simply been better and funnier, before. Even Fraser. At the end of the day, “Airheads” just reminds me that Michael McKean was in “This is Spinal Tap.” And that is the ultimate rock comedy, which “Airheads” fails to emulate.