Tommy (Joe Pesci) is a mobster tasked with the title eight heads that are stuffed into a duffel bag, a treasure meant for a mob boss who wants to make sure that his dirty work has been done. On the way to San Diego from Newark, he meets Charlie (Andy Comeau), a nebbish man with no backbone, who is on his way to California to meet the parents of the “out-of-his-league” girlfriend, Laurie (Kristy Swanson). On the flight, Charlie and Tommy’s bags are accidentally switched, leading to ultra-convoluted hijinks involving Charlie’s friends back home (David Spade and Todd Louiso), as well as with Kristy’s overbearing parents (George Hamilton and Dyan Cannon).
Writer/Director Tom Schulman, the man behind Oscar winner Dead Poet’s Society, is not at the top of his game here. First time directing, Schulman has made a clunky, ungodly mess of a film. It likely would have come off better with another director skilled with black comedy, or even any semblance of comedy at all. The premise is interesting, but the film lacks a real dark, tongue-in-cheek tone, something The Coen Brothers or other directors could have easily given it.
It doesn’t help much that the star isn’t actually Joe Pesci, but newcomer Andy Comeau. Pesci takes a backseat to most of the action until the final act, acting as more of the backbone of the story. It’s a poor choice; while Comeau is an appropriately unassuming and bland individual, which works at the beginning of the film, throughout he continues to have the personality of cottage cheese. He either overplays everything while not acting like he’s having any fun with the material, or he continues being just as weak as his character is supposed to be when the film starts, with seemingly no change at the end – even when he’s supposed to have found some self-esteem. It is an almost bizarre performance to watch. Even if given the chance to be over the top in a satire, I have sincere doubts that he would have ever had the screen presence to pull it off.
8 Heads in a Duffel Bag could not be made today and taken seriously. A good chunk of the movie takes place in Mexico; as a result, terribly off-putting and racist dialogue is spouted with disturbing regularity. It would also be over within ten minutes, due to the fact that social media is so ingrained in our culture. Charlie’s dull life leads me to assume he wouldn’t have any privacy protocols put into place, so all Pesci would have had to do is find Charlies Facebook or Instagram, see a few selfies and check-ins, catch a plane, go blow Charlies head off, take his bag, and be on his way to retirement.
There’s really only one scene in the film that is laugh-out-loud funny; the rest of it is a complete mess. Along with Comeau, almost every single actor is masterfully unfunny. Dyan Cannon and George Hamilton are shrieking, obnoxious dunderheads, while Spade is only there to be snarky and snide, as per usual. None of the subplots give the film any weight or comedic value, leading into a lifeless climax in which almost everyone is brought together in a needlessly complicated denouement.
Released on Blu-ray by Twilight Time, 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag has been upgraded to 1080p High Definition. Extras included are a booklet with an analysis written by Twilight Time’s Julie Kirgo, a theatrical trailer, and an isolated score with some sound effects retained.