There are two ways to describe the comics who’ve grown up under the influence of MTV’s smart-aleck mockery. One is that they’re media-savvy ironists — masters of the postmodern put-down, the absurdist wisecrack that trumpets its awareness of itself as a wisecrack. The other is that they’re preening Johnny- one-notes who can’t be bothered to tell a straight joke. The latter view is lent considerable weight by Airheads and In the Army Now, two new comedies pitched to the MTV audience, and both so frantically unfunny that they have the feel of teen-market ad blitzes stretched out to feature length.
Airheads actually takes off from a promising idea. Directed by Michael Lehmann (Heathers, Hudson Hawk), it tries to satirize the indolent young L.A. rock musicians who, in their wide-eyed lust for celebrity, have become the contemporary equivalent of ’40s starlets waiting to be discovered at Schwab’s. In this case, the musicians are a struggling heavy-metal trio, the Lone Rangers — dreamboat guitarist Chazz (Brendan Fraser), punkish bass player Rex (Steve Buscemi), and crazed-simpleton drummer Pip (Adam Sandler) — who sneak into a popular radio station brandishing plastic Uzis and force the deejay (Joe Mantegna) to play their precious single. But the tape player eats the demo, leaving the hapless rockers stranded like Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon, with nothing to do but point their toy guns.
Are the Lone Rangers meant to be idiots or genuine rock renegades? Airheads can’t make up its mind. Like MTV, it celebrates corporate rebellion — that is, how to hold on to your ”integrity” and land a big, fat record contract anyway. The film’s most distinctive, if obnoxious, feature is the coy, look-at-what- an-adorable-doofus-I-am clowning of Adam Sandler, who here, as on Saturday Night Live, parades his ironic infantilism. Making squirmy-lipped monkey faces and talking in a funny high voice, he tries to turn the very idea that he’s getting paid to act like a moronic 8-year-old into a hip goof. This is comedy as Attitude, and it feeds right into Airheads’ defanged celebration of rock outlawism. What might have been an amusing 15-minute sequence in a Wayne’s World movie degenerates into a monotonous muddle.
Pauly Shore’s smirk is MTV incarnate, his way of flaunting the fact that he’s a celebrity who hasn’t done anything to be one. If In the Army Now is any indication, however, the jig may be up. Playing a California slacker who volunteers for the Army Reserves, Shore sits down for his military haircut and screams in horror when he views his closely buzzed locks. It’s an appropriate reaction: Without that flyaway mane, which lent him an impish-hippie cuddliness, he loses his personality as a comic — i.e., he no longer seems like the slightly more masculine brother of Richard Simmons. He’s now just a run- of-the-mill jerk cracking up at his own fey sarcasm.
In the Army Now, an abysmal knockoff of Stripes, buries Shore under a pile of generic barracks-comedy gags. See Pauly do endless push-ups, fall into the water, and toss the pulled pin instead of the grenade. See Pauly shipped to Africa, where he and his fellow recruits get stranded in the desert (you feel stranded along with them). See Pauly and his pals help the U.S. attack Libya, proving that even a Pauly Shore comedy can turn into a movie about machine guns firing, Scud missiles launching, fireballs rising. Make no mistake, though: The biggest bomb here is the movie itself. Airheads: D