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MOVIE REVIEW : Rebel ‘Airheads’ With a Rocker Cause

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The L.A. rock ‘n’ roll scene is ripe for a great comedy. “Airheads,” directed by Michael Lehmann and scripted by Rich Wilkes, is far from great. But it sure is ripe. It’s bursting with bad ideas, half-good ideas, good and bad actors yelling and mugging. Like a lot of youth comedies, it’s frenetic where it should be inspired.

The rock group the Lone Rangers can’t get anybody to listen to their demo tape. When Chazz (Brendan Fraser), the group’s leader, sneaks into and then gets booted out of the office of a big-shot record producer (Judd Nelson), he cooks up a desperate scheme to invade rebel radio station KPPX and get their demo aired. The Lone Rangers, turning realistic-looking water rifles on the staff, end up taking them hostage. Because the drama is being aired live, the group becomes folk heroes to the kids massed outside the station. Celebrity beckons--so does prison.

The only reason to endure their antics is for the occasional funny cameo performance. Joe Mantegna plays the station’s dyspeptic deejay, and he’s hilarious. He has the haggard, aggravated look of someone who spends his life yowling at total strangers through a microphone. As the program manager, Michael McKean is good enough to remind you of his role as the British rocker in the great mock rockumentary “This Is Spinal Tap” (which he also co-wrote). Chris Farley, as a cop on the scene, keeps threatening to be funny, but the role doesn’t often allow for his explosive talents. (He does have one memorable moment when he intimidates a male rocker by plucking his nipple ring.)

The three Rangers aren’t particularly convincing as anything but actors trying to play rock ‘n’ rollers. Besides Fraser, who is stuck with the “sincere” role--he doesn’t want a record contract if it’s only based on the group’s notoriety--there’s Steve Buscemi’s Rex, whose ranting wears thin fast, and Adam Sandler’s Pip, who seems to be sharing a joke we’re not in on. As the plot escalates and turns into a mishmashed comment on how the media turn criminals into celebrities, the whole thing begins to look like “Dog Day Afternoon” for--well--airheads.

Now if only the Lone Rangers had been played by Beavis and Butt-head.

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* MPAA rating: PG-13, for crude dialogue and some sexuality. Times guidelines: It includes some gunplay, using real and fake guns.

‘Airheads’

Brendan Fraser: Chazz Darby

Steve Buscemi: Rex

Joe Mantegna: Ian the Shark

Adam Sandler: Pip

A 20th Century Fox release of an Island World/Robert Simonds production. Director Michael Lehmann. Producers Robert Simonds, Mark Burg. Executive producer Todd Baker. Screenplay by Rich Wilkes. Cinematographer John Schwartzman. Editor Stephen Semel. Costumes Bridget Kelly. Music Carter Burwell. Production design David Nichols. Sound Douglas Axtell, Russell Fager. Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes.

* In general release throughout Southern California.


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