Tapeheads (1988)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Cast: John Cusack, Tim Robbins
Extras: Audio Commentary

For years, I’ve seen the package for ’Tapeheads’ on the video store shelf and wondered to myself, ’Here’s a movie with John Cusack and Tim Robbins. I wonder why I’ve never heard of it?’ Now that I’ve actually seen it, I know why. That statement may imply that 1988’s ’Tapeheads’ is a bad movie. It isn’t. It just isn’t something that would be embraced by a mainstream audience.

Ivan Alexeev (John Cusack) and Josh Tager (Tim Robbins) are life-long friends who have done nothing with their lives since graduating high school. Despite the fact that Ivan has a head for business, and Josh is a wizard with audio and video equipment, they have taken jobs as security guards. After they are fired from their jobs (for holding a wild party), Ivan decides that with their talents, they should make music videos and rule ’RVTV’ (the film’s version of MTV). You must keep in mind that this was the mid-80s. The duo set up shop as ’Video Aces’ and move in with artist Belinda (Katy Boyer). As first, Video Aces can only get gigs taping funerals and parties, but they soon get a huge break after meeting a music journalist (Mary Gregory) at a party. Once the Video Aces become celebrities, they set their sights too high and decide that RVTV needs to bow to their visions. Add political intrigue and Menudo to the mix and you’ve got one wild ride.

For lack of a better word, ’Tapeheads’ is very 80s. From the wardrobe to the music to the ’novelty’ of music videos, this movie epitomizes the ’Me Decade’. For the most part, ’Tapeheads’ is a fun, nostalgic romp, but it does get mired down in its own outrageousness at times. For example, Ivan and Josh are infatuated by a Sam & Dave-like 60s singing group and spend a great deal of the film talking about this duo. This subplot gets confusing and boring at times. The highlight of the film comes when a very funny coincidence makes the Video Aces an overnight success. The film contains cameos by many musical stars, such as Ted Nugent, ’Weird Al’ Yankovic, Monkee Michael Nesmith (who was also executive producer on the film), and many others. While ’Tapeheads’ runs out of gas in the story department, Gen Xers may enjoy this bizarre flashback.

’Tapeheads’ receives the standard treatment from Anchor Bay, which means that it looks and sounds fantastic. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and has been enhanced for 16×9 TVs. The image is very clear, showing only a slight bit of grain, and very little noise. The color scheme on the image is very impressive, as the film features a wide spectrum of vivid colors in the costuming. We get natural-looking fleshtones and realistic reds and greens. The audio on the disc is a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. This soundtrack offers a nice soundfield, with liberal use of surround sound for music cues and sound effects. The nearly constant music in the film sounds good, but doesn’t offer a great deal of bass response.

The only extra on the DVD is an audio commentary featuring executive producer Michael Nesmith, director/co-writer Bill Fishman (’Car 54, Where Are You?’), and production designer Catherine Hardwicke. The trio speaks at length during the film and the majority of the comments are scene specific. They tell many interesting anecdotes, including a discussion about deleted scenes including a sub-plot in which Herve Villechaize playing a crooked film-equipment salesman. They wondered aloud where the footage is today. It would have been nice for those scenes to be a part of the DVD, but I guess, you can’t have it all.