Eight Heads in a Duffel Bag

Friday April 18, 1997

     Tom Schulman's "Eight Heads in a Duffel Bag" is consistently inventive without being consistently funny and comes up with about half as many laughs as it works so hard to get. While there are a number of funny moments, "Eight Heads" suggests just how difficult it can be to create and sustain an all-out farce.
     In his directorial debut, writer Schulman brings to the film a curiously varied background: an Oscar-winning script for "Dead Poets Society" and the screenplays for "What About Bob?," "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" and "Medicine Man." What's more, he has at his disposal a large and effective cast. But his experience and a lot of talent in front of the camera don't add up to a thigh-slapper.
     Having virtually repeated his "GoodFellas" role in "Casino," Joe Pesci seems to be parodying the not-too-smart, hot-tempered and ruthless gangster that he maybe should be giving a rest. In any event, he's Tommy Spinelli, who must fly from the East Coast to San Diego with a duffel bag full of eight heads as proof to "the big guy" that he fulfilled his contract as a hit man.
     Naturally, his black bag gets mixed up with that of Andy Comeau's nice guy Charlie, who's to meet his girlfriend Laurie (Kristy Swanson) and her parents (George Hamilton and Dyan Cannon) and head for a vacation at a posh Baja resort. Poor Charlie; not only does he wind up with eight dead heads south of the border but also with the news that Laurie wants to break off with him. (This, of course, sets him up to rise to the occasion and emerge a hero.)
     In his film debut, Comeau comes across likably, and Hamilton, as a stuffed shirt, and Cannon, as a brand-new teetotaler, know all the right moves and are a pure pleasure.
     Threatening to steal the picture, however, are David Spade and Todd Louiso as Charlie's hapless fraternity brothers, tracked down by Tommy, who's prepared to kill them if they fail to figure out where Charlie has gone in Mexico. Spade is very funny as a guy who can't resist a retort even in the most negative circumstances, and Louiso may be even funnier as a young man who can't relinquish his concern for ethics even in the most absurd predicaments.
     Keith Vanderlaan of Cannom Creations devised some admirably realistic heads, and Schulman was resourceful in his use of Southern California locales to stand in for Mexico. It was probably just as well "Eight Heads" wasn't filmed in Mexico because Schulman indulges, although good-naturedly, in some Latino stereotypes that will not amuse everyone.

Eight Heads in a Duffel Bag, 1997. R, for language. A Metromedia Entertainment Group release of an Orion Pictures presentation in association with Rank Film Distributors presentation. Writer-director Tom Schulman. Producers Brad Krevoy, Steve Stabler, John Bertoli. Executive producer Jeffrey D. Ivers. Cinematographer Adam Holender. Editor David Holden. Costumes Sanja Milkovic Hays. Music Andrew Gross. Production designer Paul Peters. Art director Tomas P. Wilkins. Set designers Scott Herbertson, Cleone Balsam. Set decorator Amy Wells. Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes. Joe Pesci as Tommy Spinelli. Andy Comeau as Charlie. George Hamilton as Dick Bennett. Dyan Cannon as Annette Bennett. Kristy Swanson as Laurie Bennett. Todd Louiso as Steve. David Spade as Ernie.

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