Friday, September 25, 2009


Andy Kaufman is one of my favorite entertainers of the past thirty plus years. He took comedy to some odd places that it had never gone before but I had never seen his famously bad 1981 film Heartbeeps until recently. Wow. Heartbeeps lived up to the hype--it is bad, really, really bad. It's one of those rare creatures though, it's so awful, and you know it's horrible as you watch it, but you can not turn it off or look away. Train wreck city that leaves you thinking--how did this movie get made? So, in some weird way, it's actually good despite it being so crappy! Make sense?

Heartbeeps is something that could only have been made in the early 1980s. Straight to video is a term invented for a film like this. Kaufman and Bernadette Peters star as robots who escape a robotics factory and go on a walkabout. Okay, I'm intrigued with that so far. They build a baby robot for some reason (it does cute robot baby stuff!) and are joined on their journey by an old school borscht belt robot named Catskill. While they are gone they are pursued by a defective police robot known as Crimebuster Deluxe and a couple of bumbling factory workers (one of which is Randy Quaid). The pair engage in lots of robot based discussion about the world they encounter (one of them: what is a rainbow?) that expresses the similarities between human relationships and ones between artificial intelligence.

Heartbeeps is supposed to be set far enough from 1981 that it's very futuristic and modern yet it's 1981 technology on display. Rather than trying to come up with new things--we get large computer consoles with blinking green text on the all black screen, Atari 2600 joysticks, bad '80s rock band haircuts and outfits (Christopher Guest has a small role wearing some crazy overalls out in a junk yard and looking like he should have been on the set of Revenge of the Nerds set in alternate world). They do come up with things like beer in a bag so I don't want to completely rag on their imaginations. Beer in a bag, that's about it.

I'm glad I saw Heartbeeps as it's one of the few, if only, things with Kaufman in it I hadn't seen. It's terrible yet oddly captivating due to its cheesy, silly, over earnest ways. It is worth seeing if you like Kaufman or the genre of "it's so bad it's good." I can see why Kaufman was interested in making Heartbeeps as it taps into his love of innocence and childlike awe. He had those things in his comedy from day one. Too bad this wasn't up to the high standards he had set in his work in television and stand-up comedy.


Bart said...

I think this and "The Room" need to be upcoming midnight movies.

Joshua Blevins Peck said...

I'm actually going to try and book THE ROOM for a midnighter in January I think. I don't know about HEARTBEEPS might have to brave this one alone at home.