Tapeheads (DVD)

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Tapeheads (DVD)

A breezy and agreeable if hilarity-free oddball comedy starring Tim Robbins and John Cusack, Tapeheads barely received a theatrical release in 1988, mostly due to its timing. Though it clearly aspired to cult-classicdom, it appeared just as home video's vice-like grip had all but eliminated niche markets. Even without this external factor, it feels like a film out of time. Infatuated with the notion of music videos after the novelty of MTV had worn off, and starring two teen-comedy veterans attempting to make the transition into adult roles, Tapeheads in many respects captures the cultural Never-Neverland of the post-John Hughes, pre-Gen-X era of youth-oriented comedies. Robbins and a humorously mustachioed Cusack play a pair of proto-slackers—aimless, twentysomething security guards who have failed to live up to a yearbook page hailing them as "most likely to succeed." At the more gregarious Cusack's suggestion, Robbins begins to exploit his talent for video, first by working on spec for a suspicious but exceedingly calm record producer (a well-cast Don Cornelius). They begin to achieve success after shooting the final video for a heavy-metal band killed by a crashing satellite. But their unwitting possession of a kinky videotape featuring a sleazy presidential candidate puts their lives in danger, interfering with their attempt to revive the career of beloved '60s soul duo The Swanky Modes (played by Junior Walker and Sam Moore of Sam And Dave). Tapeheads has one eye cast toward the easygoing teen comedies of the early '80s, the other toward the reference-drenched early '90s. Chase scenes share space with parodies of rap and metal videos, while calculatedly outrageous skateboard and graffiti parties appear alongside jokes about Menudo and cameos by Lyle Alzado, "Weird Al" Yankovic, and others. Robbins and Cusack are an enjoyable comic team, but Tapeheads doesn't quite make it as a comedy. It lacks the satirical bite and stylistic vision of Repo Man, which shared its tone (slightly mainstreamed underground cool) and its executive producer, Monkee Michael Nesmith (who joins director Bill Fishman and production designer Catherine Hardwicke on the DVD's easygoing commentary track). But as a relic of culture in transition, it has more resonance than an Alf rerun or a pack of Gulf War trading cards. Look fast for Courtney Love in a small role.