EIGHT HEADS IN A DUFFEL BAG (1997) 3/4 *
It's a mess. It's a cheap attempt at getting laughs. Mobster Tommy Spinelli (Joe Pesci) carries from New Jersey to California what the title of the film says (they all belong to hoodlums) for delivery to a Big Boss as proof of assignment accomplished by Tommy's middle echelon boss.
At San Diego's airport carousel, two identical bags are accidentally switched. The heads-duffel goes to Charlie (Comeau). He is a med student who makes you pray that if he ever graduates you'll be better off seeing your friendly veterinarian than Doctor Charlie.
Charlie is visiting his long time no see girl-friend Laurie (Swanson) who has decided to dump him. He doesn't know this yet, and while he thinks he was invited by her family, he was not. Anyway, her folks (Hamilton and Cannon) drive everyone down to a resort hotel in Mexico.
That's where Mom, a recovering alky,is the first to peek into the bag and go into hysterics. Charlie, then Laurie are next. Tommy in the meantime, trying to track down Charlie, ends up with the student's roommates who seem to be the only other living creatures on campus.
I will now spare you the details and spare myself thinking about them. Not that some bits are not funny, but they are submerged in repetitions, stupidities, improbabilities, plot holes, and anything else you care to name. The performers are totally undeveloped, bad, and exaggerate badly while accomplishing the feat of being characterless at the same time.
Pesci overdoes to death his irascibility, aggressivity, violence, telephone-busting, sadism and other such virtues. The eight heads are increased by more of them, courtesy of the Med School's stash of frozen corpses.
Some mileage is gotten out of a few scenes or sequences. Like the setups between Pesci and the roommates -- one "sensitive," the other cynical -- that might approach amusing absurdism. Sadly, the film does not know the meaning of subtlety or wit and does not know when to stop milking the same cow.
Annoyingly, there is a running motif of ridiculing Mexicans and another of including caricatures of contemporary "bandidos." In one development, George Hamilton's new car is stolen by local highwaymen, painted red, rented by Charlie, re-stolen by the same gang, and...
Feeble puns are made with "head," such as losing it, go ahead, head out, head on, etc. A wonder they didn't think that in Italian the Mafia bosses are Capo or, in the plural, Capi.
The severed heads are extremely life-like. In a potentially funny nightmare of Pesci's, they come to life and sing to him "Mr. Sandman." This comes too late to salvage things. Incoherence, monotony and overkill, well entrenched by now, will go on also in what's ahead.
Since many of us have had our luggage switched for a look-alike, the movie's one positive side is a reminder to mark your bags in distinctive ways. That's worth half-a-star.
Written 28 April 1997