By Christian DiMartino
There are certain ways to use Joe Pesci. Either, you have him front and center, riffing off of everyone, or you have him in a supporting role. Now the supporting role comes with a few notable points. Or, one, at least. If he is in a supporting role, he has to be surrounded by people who are just as good, or better, than he is. Take Lethal Weapon 2, for example, or Goodfellas, or more recently, The Irishman. He wasn’t the star of those films, yet when he got his moments to shine, shine he did.
8 Heads in a Duffel Bag makes a key mistake in that this is a Pesci vehicle, and yet they hand the reins over to the other cast half of the time. It would be one thing if one were just as funny as the other. Alas, they are not.
8 Heads in a Duffel Bag, directed by Dead Poet’s Society screenwriter Tom Schulman, is a comedy, but there are perhaps three genuinely funny moments in the entire thing. When Pesci is onscreen, things are better than when he is not onscreen. When he is not onscreen, everything feels overworked and, quite simply, not funny.
In a surprising turn, Pesci plays a comedic mobster. Well, that’s not the surprising part. The surprise here is that he seems pretty restrained, for the most part. One might expect a Home Alone-esque kind of performance, but this is not the one that he gives. He just plays it cool, and when he is onscreen, the movie is certainly more enjoyable than when the other cast members are at the center of the story. The way that these characters react to this scenario would be believable if everyone involved in it didn’t act like they were trying to upstage Pesci, and therein lies the problem.
The premise: Tommy (Pesci) is a mobster who gets aboard a flight, carrying 8 heads in a duffel bag (ah, that’s why they call it that). A fellow passenger on the plane, a medical student named Charlie (Andy Comeau, who, strangely, looks like the lovechild of 90s Paul Rudd and John Cusack), accidentally switches bags with Tommy whilst he is on his way to Mexico to spend time with his girlfriend (Kristy Swanson) and her parents (George Hamilton and Dyan Cannon). Tommy needs to get the heads to his boss, and once he realizes the mix-up, begins searching for Charlie and soon tortures his roommates (David Spade and Todd Louiso) to find out where he is. Over in Mexico, Charlie soon discovers his horrific mix-up, and so does the family he is with. Funny material could’ve been mined from this scenario, but instead it plays like a forced, unfunny one-season sitcom. The portion with Joe Pesci is significantly more entertaining, and yet for whatever reason, it doesn’t really achieve liftoff either.
It’s a farce, plain and simple. So maybe looking into it as much as I am is perhaps unfair. Yet a comedy has one thing to do: it has to actually be funny. Alas, 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag is not, and considering that this was one of Pesci’s last movies, it’s a bummer that he’d have to waste his talent on something this empty.