8 HEADS IN A DUFFEL BAG (1997)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 35 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language

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Directed by: Tom Schulman

Written by: Tom Schulman

Starring: Joe Pesci, Andy Corneau, Kristy Swanson, George Hamilton, Dyan Cannon, David Spade, Todd Louiso, Anthony Mangano

Joe Pesci has already played the role of a gangster four times off the top of my head (two of which were in well-known Scorsese films). One might imagine that this type-casting would make him the ideal actor to portray as an older wiseguy in a dark comedy. Audiences didn’t buy it as 8 HEADS IN A DUFFEL BAG flopped at the box office (under 4 million in it’s domestic run) and it was panned by most critics. Curiosity got the better of me and I decided to check out this light-hearted mafia comedy. Turns out that was a bad move on my part and this entire film is a bland waste of time. It’s not even so stupid that it makes you wonder what the cast and crew were thinking. This is just plain vanilla all around. An unfunny would-be comedy that never takes advantage of any creative scenarios thrown its way and doesn’t fully grasp how solid dark comedy works.

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Tommy Spinelli (Pesci) is a bag man assigned with getting a duffel bag of the eight severed heads of some recently executed gangsters to his boss. After sitting next to Charlie Pritchett, a doofus on his way to vacation with his girlfriend’s family in Mexico, Tommy winds up with the wrong duffel bag in the luggage return and Charlie winds up with Tommy’s bag. Tommy frantically searches for clues to Charlie’s specific whereabouts, while Charlie is horrified to discover the grotesque contents of his luggage. Wacky antics ensue and plenty of bland humor follows.

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For a poster featuring Joe Pesci front and center, he only appears for about 10 minutes in the first half of the movie and then makes his way into far more screen time for the second half. For a majority of the film, the viewer is forced to follow at-the-time newcomer Andy Corneau. Andy hasn’t gone on to become a big name and judging from his debut performance in 8 HEADS, this should be no surprise at all. Corneau is as bland as bland can be in this even more bland comedy. He juggles being over-the-top with cracking bad jokes and even throwing in some forced pratfalls. It’s a mad-dash attempt at being funny that just doesn’t work on any level. Joe Pesci does wind up getting a few solid chuckles, despite the lame nature of the script he’s trapped in.

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The other cast members don’t fare much better. Everybody else, with one exception, aren’t recognizable and didn’t wind up doing anything remarkably funny or memorable. However, one name stands out that has since gone on to be successful and that’s David Spade. Again, he comes off as more annoying than funny in this film, but it was interesting seeing him act alongside Joe Pesci (kind of sad too). These characters are all as stupid as the screenplay needs them to be in some scenes and then unusually clever when the plot calls for moving forward (e.g. a character hot-wiring a car out of nowhere or a guy with an intricate plan who has only been a moron up to this point). Mexican stereotypes abound too and border on offensive in some cases.

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To add insult to the injury of this film not being funny to begin with, the screenplay never takes things as far as they should have gone. Plenty of opportunities were given for creative jokes, but the movie always takes the easy (predictable) route. Joe Pesci snuck in a few workable jokes, but seems like he’s tired and merely doing this movie for a paycheck. The music score is obnoxious as well. Mainly constructed of trumpets and cartoony music, it plays louder and louder as if to nudge the viewer into knowing they should to be cracking up at all the supposed hilarity happening on the screen. It’s a shame that not much of it is actually worth even a chuckle or even an amused grunt.

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The only redeemable things about the film are Joe Pesci, who winds up being underused for half the film, and a few moments that did make me chuckle. At that point, my standards might have been lowered enough to accept any halfway decent punchline. Nothing in 8 HEADS IN A DUFFEL BAG warrants a viewing. It’s a missed opportunity that chugs along with a very bland screenplay and equally as bland actors, Pesci excluded. The film is currently out-of-print and it needs to stay that way.

Grade: D+

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