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Film / Airheads

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"Do you know what it's like to be on the bill and to play for 15 minutes and the only people there to see you are the other bands and their girlfriends? Don't talk to me about rock and roll! I'm out there in the clubs and on the streets and I'm living it! I AM ROCK AND ROLL!"
Chazz Darby

A 1994 comedy film directed by Michael Lehmann (Heathers) and starring Brendan Fraser, Steve Buscemi, and Adam Sandler as three band members hoping for a big break head to a radio station to play their demo tape and wind up holding everyone hostage with plastic guns when the station manager refuses to let the DJ interview and play them.

Tropes featured:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: At the end of the film when the Lone Rangers finally get a record contract, Rex hugs Suzzi for a little too long. Naturally, she acts a little grossed out by it.
  • Air-Vent Passageway: One of the film's subplots is a Die Hard parody, so this is to be expected.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: At the end of the film we learn that "the Lone Rangers served 3 months for kidnapping, theft, and assault with hot pepper sauce."
  • Berserk Button:
    • Don't mention pool cleaning gear around the SWAT leader.
    • Don't rip off Officer Wilson's badge. You'll just give him ideas.
    • Rex being called "Hollywood Boulevard trash" by station manager Milo is what causes the situation to degenerate from mere trespassing to hostage taking. A little earlier in the film Rex had mentioned using the hot sauce-filled squirt guns against "Hollywood Boulevard trash", so he did not like being called it himself.
    • Milo freaks out when he walks in on Pip and Suzzi having sex on his expensive $1400 leather couch.
  • Beta Couple: Pip and Suzzi.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Wilson is a pretty calm guy, but there are limits.
  • Brick Joke: see Non-Indicative Name.
    • One of the deliberately weird demands that the Lone Rangers make to the police is for "naked pictures of Bea Arthur!" Much later in the film, when Jimmie Wing comes to the radio station, he passes a couple of people staring in combined awe and bafflement at some pictures that we can't see. Jimmie peers at them and says "Bea Arthur? Outstanding!"
    • Another demand is for football helmets filled with cottage cheese. It a blink-and-you'll-miss it sight gag, during one of the scenes with the cops, you can see them filling said helmets from big tubs of cottage cheese.
  • Butt-Monkey:
  • The Cameo:
    • White Zombie perform their song, "Feed the Gods", in the "Whiskey-A-Go-Go" concert scene.
    • Mike Judge voices his characters Beavis and Butt-Head though a telephone.
    • Motörhead's Lemmy appears among the crowd, saying "I was editor of the school magazine!" when Chazz was revealed to be an ex-geek.
    • The Howard Stern Show's Stuttering John Melendez appears as the rocker who used to masturbate constantly.
    • Harold Ramis shows up as a record executive trying to get into the seized radio station. He gets asked the immortal question "Whose side did you take: Van Halen or Roth?" He goes with Van Halen, and the band immediately tags him as a cop... which proves correct when he's seen later wearing a badge and carrying a sidearm. Even better, he invokes Executive Meddling when referencing Van Hagar and it ALMOST works, since a record executive WOULD have that perspective ("They sold a lot of records after Roth left!").
    • MTV's Kurt Loder appears as himself, reporting on the hostage crisis, and also wondering how one pluralizes "The Lone Ranger".
  • Can Always Spot a Cop: A record executive knocks on the doors asking to be let in to make a deal with the protagonists. They ask him which side he took in the Van Halen/David Lee Roth split. The executive says Van Halen and everyone, even the hostages, out him as a cop for such a stupid answer. They give him another shot by asking who would win in a fight, Lemmy or God. He says Lemmy, which is wrong, then God, also wrong. The answer: Lemmy is God. They send him packing, and he is later shown with the cops wearing a badge.
  • Celebrity Paradox: In order to sniff out if the "record executive" that is trying to enter the station in one scene is actually an undercover cop, the Rangers ask him "who would win in a fight, Lemmy or God?" (Answer: trick question — Lemmy is God). Lemmy appears in a cameo in a crowd scene later apparently as a random rocker.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The giant baby bottle, asked for as part of the crazy demands, is used to subdue armed accountant Doug Beech.
    • Rex likes to fill his squirt guns with tabasco, in case some "Hollywood Boulevard trash" messes with him. This comes up later, when Chazz needs to season a burrito and Milo gets uppity.
    • During their ingress into the building, the guys take advantage of the fact that the steel exterior doors have automatic closers. This bites them in the ass when the front door later automatically closes on one of their fake guns with enough force to crush it.
  • Closet Geek: Chazz was a raging dork back in school. His public admission, followed by the crowd's acceptance, is a touching moment.
    Chazz: Kayla, there's something I gotta tell ya. I was a geek in high school. I had really short hair. I played Dungeons & Dragons, I had a bug collection, I ate my boogers. My name's not Chazz; it's Chester, and I understand if you don't love me anymore.
    Rocker 1: I played D&D too!
    Lemmy: I was editor of the school magazine!
    Rocker 2: I used to wear corduroy pants!
    John Melendez: I used to masturbate... constantly!
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Carter, the "surfer dude" as Rex calls him.
  • Comically Missing the Point: After the reel-to-reel tape of the Lone Rangers' demo is accidentally destroyed, Ian tries to talk Chazz into surrendering to the police by pointing out that the building is surrounded and the reason they broke in is no longer viable. But Chazz instead comes up with the idea of getting the cassette copy of the demo from Kayla.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive:
    • Milo wants to change Rebel Radio into an easy-listening station and doesn't even bother to give any advanced warning that he will do this—which will mean firing a lot of people, including the DJs and the secretary he's having sex with because she wants to keep her job.
    • Jimmy Wing is a record executive jackass who enforces irritating control over his talent like lip-synching during concerts, talks mostly in Blatant Lies, and only cares about singers in terms of how much money he can squeeze out of them before he burns them out and not their actual talent.
  • Crash-Into Hello: How Pip and Suzzi first meet. Pip is trying to open the back door, when it suddenly opens and he gets knocked down by Suzzi, who was stepping outside to smoke a cigarette. She goes back inside and gives Pip a bag of ice, and after she leaves, Chazz drops his bag to keep it from closing, and they sneak into the station.
  • Creator Worship: In-universe.
    Chazz: Who'd win in a wrestling match, Lemmy or God?
    Chris Moore: Lemmy.
    Rex: (makes a game-show "wrong" noise)
    Chris: God!
    Rex: Wrong, dickhead. Trick question—Lemmy is God.
  • Critical Dissonance: In-Universe, when Milo puts down Chazz' tastes in bands, asking "If they're so hot, how come they're not tearing up the charts, babe?", to which Rex replies "Because you never play them, babe. You suck.".
  • The Cynic: At the start of the film, Ian believes that modern rock has nothing to offer compared to the rock music of the 60s and 70s. But after being held hostage and seeing how passionate Chazz is about his music, Ian begins to once again believe in rock and roll.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Many characters, particularly Ian and Rex.
  • Delivery Guy Infiltration: Chazz tries to sneak into Palatine Records this way in the beginning to try and show his demo tape to the executives. Judging by the reactions of the security guards and a secretary, this isn't the first time he's done this.
  • "Die Hard" on an X: It's Die Hard, in a radio station, as a comedy! Bonus points for the station being located next to Nakatomi Plaza. A bit of a variant in that this is a subplot, the "[McClane]" of the situation is a completely useless moron, and the cop that gives him support is the "go in, shoot them all and let God sort 'em out" Smug Snake instead of the Reasonable Authority Figure. Oh, and the hostage takers are the protagonists.
  • The Ditz: None of the members of the Lone Rangers are especially bright, but Chazz and Rex are geniuses when compared to Pip. Suzzi is also rather ditzy.
  • Doing It for the Art: An in-universe example. Chazz explains to Ian that his goal in life is to make a song that people will remember. Chazz's passion for the music ends up helping Ian to remember why he fell in love with rock and roll in the first place.
    Chazz: I'm average and screwed up enough that I might just write a song that will live forever. And then it's all going to be worth it.
  • Double Standard: Abuse, Female on Male: Kayla becomes physically violent towards Chazz a couple of times. If the roles were reversed it probably wouldn't be considered nearly as funny.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Kayla is seen doing this when Officer Wilson finds her.
  • Dumb and Drummer: Pip is by far the ditziest of the trio.
  • Dumb Blonde: Suzzi.
  • Embarrassing First Name: Chester Ogilvie, alias "Chazz Darvey".
  • Eye Scream: Milo gets his eyes sprayed with hot pepper sauce when he tries to escape the radio station.
  • Fanservice Extra: The Hawaiian Tropic bikini models appear in a couple of scenes.
  • Fascinating Eyebrow: Chazz delivers one as Jimmy Wing delivers a speech about how rock stars don't get full sentences, such as how "Vince Neil only got 30 days, and he killed somebody."
  • Fictional Counterpart: KPPX 103.3 Rebel Radio was loosely based on the now-defunct Los Angeles radio station KNAC 105.5 (Pure Rock), which had a hard rock/heavy metal format, and even used "if it's too loud, you're too old" (which is said by Ian at one point) as a slogan. KNAC 105.5 went off the air six months after Airheads was released to theaters, being replaced by Spanish-language radio station KBUE (Que Buena).
  • "Get Out of Jail Free" Card: Jimmy Wing promises Chazz that if he signs the record contract he's offered, Palatine Records' legal defense team will be able to stop the Lone Rangers from going to jail.
  • Genius Ditz: Though routinely slammed as a moron by his friends, Pip is the first person they turn to when they suddenly need an electrical engineer.
    • None of the members of the Lone Rangers are especially bright. But they do possess musical talent.
  • Genre Mashup: The Lone Rangers describe their particular genre of rock as "power slop" (but with an edge).
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Kayla has one, although this mostly may be due to the fact that she's sick of Chazz always sponging off of her.
  • Hand-or-Object Underwear: Pip uses his cap when he and Suzzi are caught having sex in Milo's office.
  • Hate Sink: Milo is an unlikable Yuppie who intends on laying off his entire staff and changing the station's focus to easy-listening. From the moment he is introduced, he is made the Butt-Monkey by the Lone Rangers, often punishing him in ironic ways whenever he tries to weasel out of the situation by selfish means.
  • Hates the Job, Loves the Limelight: Ian doesn't like 90s rock, telling Chazz "I stick to the classics. Rock'n'roll's been all downhill since Lennon died." However, seeing how passionate 90s rock musicians like Chazz are, he changes his mind.
  • Heel–Face Turn: The aging DJ Ian, played by Joe Mantegna, is at first none too thrilled to being taken hostage. But as he talks with Chazz about rock music, it re-ignites his passion for rock music, he bonds with the band and starts to give them advice on how to proceed. By the time Ian finds out Milo is firing the staff and switching the station to Easy Listening, he's completely in the band's corner. And at the end of the film, it appears that he's no longer a radio DJ and is instead working as The Lone Rangers' manager/agent.
    Ian: He wipes his ass with his record contract! I love this guy!
  • Hell-Bent for Leather: Considering that a lot of characters in this film are members of the rocker and metalhead subcultures, a lot of them are decked out in black leather. Among major characters, Chazz and Kayla are both frequently seen wearing leather jackets.
  • Hostage Situation: Hilariously enough, though, they aren't using real guns until about ten minutes before the whole thing breaks down.
  • Humiliation Conga: Everything that happens to Doug Beech while he crawls around the ventilation ducts.
  • Hypocrite: At one point, Chazz chastises a caller for preferring Grunge over hard rock and Heavy Metal. Later though, the DJ claims that he prefers classic rock to hard rock, only for Chazz to tell him that there is more to hard rock than he realizes.
  • I Am the Noun: "Do you know what it's like to be on the bill and to play for 15 minutes and the only people there to see you are the other bands and their girlfriends? Don't talk to me about Rock 'n' Roll! I'm out there in the clubs and on the streets and I'm living it! I AM ROCK 'N' ROLL!"
  • Ignored Expert: Pip tried to convince Chazz that they should bring the cassette copy of their demo tape in case Rebel Radio didn't have a reel-to-reel setup. It would've saved them some trouble.
  • Insanity Defense: Invoked by Pip, who suggests they come of a list of bizarre demands to help establish an insanity plea later. The list includes a football helmet full of cottage cheese, naked pictures of Bea Arthur (age unspecified), a sweet guitar, and an oversized novelty baby bottle.
  • Ironic Echo: Early in the film, Chazz tries to pacify an angry Kayla by bringing up a song that he wrote for her, but it backfires when she points out that he wrote the song before they even met. Later in the film, Kayla tries to get Chazz to admit he loves her by bringing up the song that he allegedly wrote for her, but Chazz immediately points out that he wrote it before he met her.
  • Jerkass: Milo and Mace.
  • Jurisdiction Friction: The disagreements between Sgt. O'Malley and SWAT leader Carl Mace causes many problems, as Mace tries to undermine O'Malley's negotiations by trying to take down Chazz.
  • Knight Templar: SWAT team leader Carl Mace.
  • The Last DJ: Ian starts out as a pretty burned-out man that despises having to deal with block-headed wanna-be rockers and Milo's manipulations, but dealing with Chazz and learning things like the fact the station will become easy-listening by next week brings his love for Rock-And-Roll roaring back and he becomes an ally of the Rangers.
  • Malcolm Xerox: Played straight with Marcus.
  • Making Love in All the Wrong Places: Pip and Suzzi have sex on the couch in Milo's office. Milo is not amused when he discovers it.
  • The Masochism Tango: Chazz and Kayla are constantly fighting, despite the fact that they love each other.
  • Metalhead: Too many to count in this movie.
  • Mirror Routine: When Pip first leaves the radio station, he encounters a police officer, and they perform the basic routine. Pip tries to throw off the cop with some kind of dance move, but the officer reaches for his gun, causing the inept rocker to flee.
  • Mistaken for Badass: Due to a radio miscommunication, Mace believes that Doug Beech is a former Marine (actually, he was a Merchant Marine).
  • Ms. Fanservice: Kayla and Suzzi. Chazz gives Sgt. O'Malley a picture of Kayla posing in a swimsuit for the LAPD to find her.
  • My Little Panzer: The toy guns are stated to have been recalled because they looked too realistic, and Rex managed to grab a couple before they got removed from his toy store.
  • My Nayme Is: Suzzi, with two Z's.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Happens twice. First, Rex's lit cigarette causes the reel-to-reel of the Lone Rangers' demo to catch on fire, forcing them to get the cassette from Kayla. And later in the film Kayla throws a chair at Chazz, but misses and ends up destroying the radio station's mixing board, preventing the Lone Rangers' demo from being played over the radio.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Mace's revealing Chazz's geeky past as an attempt to make people less supportive of Chazz ends up making them more supportive, revealing their own geeky pasts.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Rex, the bass player for the Lone Rangers, is based on Rex Brown, the bass player for Pantera: They share a name, they play the same instrument, and they even have similar hairstyles and goatees.
    • Doug Beech also has a striking resemblance to Groucho Marx in terms of hair style, mustache, glasses and suit. Although this may just be a coincidence.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Ian gives Milo one of these after finding out that he's going to be fired when Rebel Radio changes format to easy listening.
  • Non-Indicative Name: "The Lone Rangers", which gets lampshaded as they introduce themselves:
    Ian: So who are you guys?
    Pip: My name's Pip...
    Ian: The band. The band name.
    Pip: Sorry about that.
    Chazz: It's right there on the box. Read it.
    Ian: (looking at the demo tape's box) The Lone Rangers? That's original. How can you pluralize "The Lone Ranger"?
    Chazz: What's wrong with that?
    Ian: Well, there's three of you. You're not exactly lone. Shouldn't you be The Three Rangers?
  • Oddly Small Organization: Ian seems to be the only DJ at KPPX, whereas most stations would have 4-5 on staff.
  • Oh, Crap!: During a bit of showboating, Rex gets careless and the barrel of his plastic Uzi gets smashed in a door, in full view of the hostages. His face is priceless.
  • Old Shame: [invoked] Chazz is forced by the SWAT leader to reveal to that he was a high school dork. Instead of losing the metal crowd that had gathered, however, his confession spurs people in the crowd to their embarrassing secrets of geekery. By the end, the crowd is even more supportive of the Lone Rangers' hostage-taking.
  • The Pornomancer: Pip. He wins over Suzzi without even trying.
    Ian: How does he do that?
    Chazz: Pip? He gets his hands on more bumper than a body shop.
    Ian: With that "I'm so stupid I must be cute" routine?
    Chazz: That's the quiet cool. Chicks, man, they just flock on it.
  • Praising Shows You Don't Watch: Happens In-Universe, when Jimmy Wing is praising Chazz's song even though he hadn't listened to it. This is what drives Chazz to break out of their newly signed contract.
  • Prisoner Performance: The film ends with the Lone Rangers performing a rock concert in their prison's mess hall after they are arrested for holding the radio station hostage. A closing text crawl mentions that the live record of said concert went triple platinum.
  • Rabid Cop: SWAT leader Mace, who constantly tries to manipulate the situation so SWAT can be allowed to storm the building and secretly provides a sub-machine gun to Doug Beech.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Sergeant O'Malley, who is possibly the most level-headed person in the entire film.
  • Reliably Unreliable Guns: A character drops an MP 5 K, causing it to spin around on the floor and fire its entire magazine, all by itself. The entire MP 5 line is widely regarded as among the world's finest sub-machine guns, in use by numerous special forces, and they typically cost in the low five-digits.
  • Rock Trio: The Lone Rangers are comprised of Chazz on guitar and lead vocals, Rex on bass guitar and backing vocals, and Pip on drums.
  • Rockers Smash Guitars: Justified. Before the Lone Rangers perform, they realize their guitars aren't actually plugged in because they're expected to lip-sync, so they smash up the stage to show that they won't sell themselves out.
  • Screams Like a Little Girl: The thug in the nightclub does this after Officer Wilson rips out his nipple ring.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: In spite of all the effort he went through to get a record contract, when Chazz learns that Jimmy Wing is signing them without hearing their music he promptly wipes his ass with the contract. Later, the entire band gets one after Wing talks Chazz into the contract when they learn that the contract is contingent on lip-syncing in public. They proceed to smash up the place and incite a riot.
  • Sexy Secretary: Implied to be Kayla's day job. Suzzi, however, is a clear example (when Milo reveals that Rebel Radio is changing formats and everybody who currently works there will lose their job, Suzzi mutters "All those blowjobs for nothing").
  • Shout-Out:
    • The ending where the Lone Rangers rock in jail is just like The Blues Brothers.
    • When addressing the crowd of rockers assembled outside of Rebel Radio, Chazz declares "They've got the guns, but we've got the numbers." This is a line from the song "Five to One" by The Doors.
    • Jimmy Wing works for Palatine Records. This is the same fictional record company that Christopher Walken's character worked for in Wayne's World 2.
  • A Simple Plan: An aspiring rock band sneaks into a radio station hoping to play their demo tape on the air. What could go wrong? Apparently, a lot.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Milo.
  • Small Town Boredom: Chazz is from an unnamed town in Iowa. He came to Los Angeles dreaming of finding success as a rock musician.
  • Spanner in the Works: The local news reporters showing up take O'Malley's attention, thus he isn't there to explain for Doug Beech when he calls on scene, speaking with SWAT chief Carl Mace who agitates the situation instead.
  • Speaking Like Totally Teen:
    Milo: All right, I know you guys think I'm a real dick... cheese... burger, or whatever.
  • Spoiler Cover: As pictured above, Airheads' poster straight-up states that the guys get arrested and go to jail.
  • Starving Artist: The Lone Rangers. Pip works as a pool cleaner, Rex works in a toy store, and Chazz is unemployed and living off his girlfriend.
  • Stockholm Syndrome: By the end of the film, nearly all of the hostages have sided with the Lone Rangers.
  • Suspect Is Hatless: Wilson, while looking for Kayla at a club.
    Wilson: (walking next to a line of blondes in tight black clothing waiting to get into a club) "Blonde wearing something tight and black". Great. Grand. Wonderful...
  • Surveillance Station Slacker: The receptionist Yvonne is shown playing a video game instead of looking at the security screens on her desk.
  • Take That!: In one scene Chazz, who is a fan of hard rock and Heavy Metal music, chastises a caller by telling him "I can't believe you like that Seattle bullshit." Airheads was released during the peak of Grunge's popularity.
  • Took a Level in Badass: After a pep talk from Sgt. O'Malley, Wilson goes from meekly taking the verbal abuse of the gathered crowd to ripping the nipple ring off a thug who defaces his badge.
    Thug: (rips off Wilson's badge and crushes it) Now whaddya gonna do about that? (starts laughing)
    Wilson: (rips off the thug's nipple ring) Improvise.
  • Too Much Information: When the rocker played by John Melendez admits that he used to masturbate constantly, his two friends look grossed out and begin punching him on the arms.
  • Trust Password: As part of a quiz to determine if a supposed record executive is legit, Chazz asks "Whose side did you take in the Van Halen/David Lee Roth split? Van Halen or Roth?", the right answer being Roth. After he incorrectly answers, Chazz gives him one more chance, asking "Who would win a wrestling match: Lemmy or God?", the right answer being "Trick question. Lemmy IS God.".
  • Unusual Euphemism: Tons, like "dicksmoke" and "butt puppet".
  • Urine Trouble: A dog pees on a cassette in one scene.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • Yvonne wasn't there when it was revealed that everyone at the station was getting laid off, so how is she gonna take the news?
    • Doug Beech is never seen or heard from again after attempting and failing to subdue the Lone Rangers with the submachinegun given to him by the LAPD.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: A postscript at the end of the movie reveals that the Lone Rangers were only incarcerated for 3 months, and their album Live in Prison went triple platinum.
  • Whole-Plot Reference: The movie borrows some details from Dog Day Afternoon (like the crowd and the hostages coming to like the hostage-takers), although thankfully this story ends in a happier note for the takers.
  • Yoko Oh No: Rex dismissively calls Kayla "Yoko" after she criticizes him.
  • Your Princess Is in Another Castle!: After a tense meeting, the guys start to play their demo tape on the air. However, the player breaks down the tape, which soon catches fire, and all hell breaks loose.