Tapeheads (1988) Poster

(1988)

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Strange 1980s curio ripe for rediscovery!
Infofreak30 October 2001
Looking back at 'Tapeheads' all these years later is a strange trip! John Cusack is now a respected leading man and Tim Robbins is Mr. Credibility. Back in the day they were two zany dorks up for just about anything. This movie is sometimes surreal, sometimes silly. Very uneven with some segments just falling flat on their face. But there is more than enough unhinged invention on show to make it something unique.

It might on the surface seem like the precursor to Bill and Ted and Wayne and Garth et al, but there is an underlying subversive, almost punk attitude, that puts it closer in spirit to 'Roadside Prophets' (which also featured Cusack) or even some of the movies of Alex Cox. Cox has no direct involvement with 'Tapeheads', but like his 80s cult classic 'Repo Man' it was produced by ex-Monkee Mike Nesmith, and several Cox regulars appear - Sy Richardson, Zander Schloss, Xander Berkeley, Bobcat Goldthwait, and even (an uncredited) Courtney Love.

The plot doesn't matter all that much, at times it's just an excuse for music video parodies, pop culture in-jokes, and cameos by an almost endless parade of musicians, familiar TV faces, and other oddballs, everyone from Jello Biafra to Connie Stevens. It's like channel surfing while tripping and listening to oldies radio. Just the sight of seeing 'The Killers' Clu Gulager being spanked by Courtney Love while cult favourite Susan Tyrrell urges her on (blink and you WILL miss it!!), is almost worth watching this alone for. 'Tapeheads' may not be THE great lost 80s cult movie, but it does deserve to be rediscovered. There's no other movie QUITE like it! And it will put a smile on your face, guaranteed.
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8/10
Amusing commentary on 80's music-videos scene
bortels8 September 2005
In the 80's, back when MTV actually played videos, I spent plenty of time with it on in the background, the way radio was in earlier decades. Tapeheads captures that in spades - the glitzy, superficial, just plain stupid, yet weirdly captivating 80's music video scene, from behind. With spoof videos like King Cotton in the "Roscoe's Chicken and Waffle Commercial", and Devo backing Cube-Squared's video ("The hottest thing from Sweden since Abba") in mock-Swedish, and some stunningly good performances by "The Swanky Modes" (Sam Moore and Junior Walker), it sticks in your head. This is no "The Shawshank Redemption" or "Grosse Point Blank" - If you're seeing it for Tim Robbins and John Cusack - this is late-80s throwaway kitsch, and it shows - and there's nothing wrong with that. If you think more "Better off Dead" or "Cadillac Man", you're in the right ballpark. Frankly, it's refreshing to see them in something early in their careers, having some fun. If you enjoyed your videos in the 80's, it's worth checking out.
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I can't explain why but I've watched this a hundred times and I keep laughing
cinemadaz14 November 2001
I can't explain why but I've watched this a hundred times and I keep laughing, alongside Cusack's Better Off Dead. John Cusack and Tim Robbins were still playing losers and became good friends off camera when they made Tapeheads, as they play bumbling would-be music video makers. In order to get their boyhood heroes The Swanky Modes (played by real-life singers Sam Moore and Junior Walker) the gig of all gigs, they scam and plug their way through unpaid work, Roscoe's chicken and waffles, relentless hitmen and a vengeful politician. Great character acting by Jessica Walter, Don Cornelius and Clu Gulager. Cameos by a ton of folks, including executive producer Michael Nesmith (from the Monkees), Jello Biafra, Fishbone and the Nuge. Along the way are all kinds of catchy little jokes that you either like and remember forever or. just don't like. "We love Menudo." "On spec." The mounting parking tickets. At least watch it for Cusack and Robbins passing the Brothers Against Drunk Driving (BADD) alcohol test: going through the alphabet backwards with your eyes closed, skipping all the vowels and giving the hand sign for each letter.

The DVD is letterboxed and has a strong analog track with Nesmith, director Bill Fishman and production designer Catherine Hardwicke. Much of the time it is as light-hearted as the movie and interesting. Unfortunately, Fishman brings up tons of scenes that were deleted from the film but aren't included on the DVD. I'm sure there's some reason for this, maybe they just weren't available, but it's kind of frustrating - they actually sound funny instead of the usual deleted scene that deserved to be cut out and forgotten. I was surprised that so much stuff was actually cut out, and that Cusack and Robbins wanted to play the opposite roles when they auditioned. But, this ain't the high theater either. At times the analog track has some of those "Remember when that happened" stories, that only work if you really really like the film. But then, why else would you watch the whole thing with the analog track on?
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10/10
Brilliant, over the top eighties spoof
Riotgear5 March 2006
Tapeheads is a surprisingly perfect satire of the eighties made at the end of the eighties. It is very funny, with an intelligent script and great dialog. Fine comedic performances by Cusack and Robbins. Multiple intertwined plots. There is a love story between a female artist and Robbins' nerdy video artist. A self-help guide with Cusack trying to better himself and his buddy. A music marathon with wonderful performances. A corrupt politician caught in a delicious scandal. All this combined with an hysterical dysfunctional family drama, make for a thoroughly wacky and wild time. The soundtrack is fabulous too. In particular, Roscoe's Rap manages to send up MTV, KFC, TV advertising and Rap music. Loved it!
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10/10
Loved this flick
shebop-124 December 2004
It's a next-generation Blues Brothers. Quick-moving visuals, good script, well executed. Funny, irreverent, and best of all the music is great. Love the two leads (Cusack & Robbins) and wonder if they remember having fun making this movie because it sure looked like they did. (Cusack can dance; Robbins can't.) Great to see some old-timers in the music roles - Sam Moore and Junior Walker, for two; plus there are several tunes I've never heard before so I got to hear and appreciate them for the first time. Cinematographywas well done. I'm surprised it's not a cult film for old r & b rock & rollers. The DVD came with a CD of the ending song "Ordinary Man" by the Swanky Modes (Moore & Walker), guaranteed to get you moving in your chair.
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10/10
Tapeheads- A bizarre unique and twisted comedy- Who could ask for more
GregRG20 April 1999
Tapeheads is not a subtle film. It is not brilliant film. What it is is one of the most unique and funny American comedies in a long time. What allows this movie to rise above the stupidity in which it revels in is two-fold. Its quirky sense of humor is so unique and refreshing, that you're not only willing but looking forward to the plot which can politely described as asinine. Secondly, it has the Swankey Modes, who are actually soul legends Sam Moore and Junior Walker. They bring a delightful energy and great music to the movie.

It would be pointless to bring up specific scenes, except to say that this movie has approximately ten or fifteen of the funniest vignettes of the year. There are also plenty of misses, but the joy in seeing them make the effort allows you to forgive all the misses.

John Cusack and Tim Robbins, both exceptional actors capable of great subtlety, exhibit none of it here. What they replace it with is a great comic energy and a willingness to do almost anything for a joke. Cusack is especially endearing as a total sleazeball who will do anything for a buck. Michael Nesmith (yes, That one!) produces this farce and demonstrates what we already knew- He was really the talented one, and the funniest one.

I imagine that there will be people who hate this movie. People who hate its lack of subtlety, who hate the implausible plot, and who just don't get a humor that most can most aptly described as off kilter. What they don't understand is that the humor in this movie is a complete original, and the lengths this movie takes to see it through are admirable and at times breathtaking. And it is for those reasons that Tapeheads is one of the great American comedies of the 1980's, and one of the most underrated movies ever made.
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8/10
If You Liked "Repo Man," You Must See "Tapeheads"
Scott_Mercer29 May 2012
More than just a few similarities between these two 80's cult films. Both have punk rock elements. Both have major settings in downtown LA's industrial area in the 1980's, well before the arrival of loft buildings and gentrification (post 2000). At that time, only misfits, hard core artist types and homeless were living there. Both parody media of the times, including music videos. (Repo Man specifically skewering televangelists and Tapeheads specifically roasting self-help types like Tony Robbins, or more likely Don LaPre.)

Both have goofball government agents chasing after the protagonists. Repo Man has The Circle Jerks doing bad lounge music in a dive bar. Tapeheads has Fishbone doing bad country music in a dive bar. Both have authority figures with "perverted" sex secrets (Tapeheads' Norman Mart with his spanking games, and Repo Man mentioning that John Wayne was gay.) Both films were produced by Michael Nesmith. (Sure The Nez must have been on familiar ground here with Fishman's script, just coming off Repo Man a few years prior.)

As others mentioned, director Bill Fishman employed a number of Cox's previous collaborators, including Zander Schloss, Xander Berkely and Courtney Love. So, was Fishman intentionally, slavishly copying Alex Cox with Tapeheads?

Honestly, I don't care, but the similarities are just so striking that I could not write a review of this film without mentioning them. If Repo Man is a 10, then Tapeheads, a similar take on LA in the 80's is an 8, the film's rating elevated largely by the game, appropriately goofy performances of Cusack and Robbins as the two leads. Cusack is really great in both comedy and drama, especially considering he would go on to a heavily dramatic (and successful)role in Stephen Frears' The Grifters only a couple years after this film.

It's not for everyone, and people use the term "quirky" far too much for my tastes. But this movie really is a quirkfest of the highest order and one of my personal fave pet movies.

(I should also note the similar plot point from Christopher Guest's movie The Big Picture, released about a year later, where the protagonist leaps from obscurity to fame after directing a no-budget, goofy music video which gets his name mentioned on MTV, by Richard Belzer of all people. Yet another element for me to confuse in my addled brain...wait, wasn't Richard Belzer in this movie? Oh no, that was The Big Picture!)

If you haven't stumbled across the movie, and you like Repo Man, early MTV or goofy 1980's comedies, you should check this out. And be on the watch for super brief cameos from Michael Nesmith, Weird Al Yankovic, Bobcat Goldthwait, Courtney Love and Jello Biafra. There's a cast list for ya, film fans.

Now, if you will excuse me, I'm really hungry and could do well right now with a Scoe's Special from Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles.
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A Roger Corman-esque "quickie" film for the MTV generation
carlson-87 April 2004
Warning: Spoilers
I remember when this film first came out. It played the local "indie" theatre for about a week. According to a "Details" magazine article on Cusack, he said that when they were promoting the film, did so in their "Actor's Gang" personas, wearing skinny ties and trench coats, and they got kicked off of a morning talk show for trashing the green room.

Judging by the final product, it seems that Robbins and Cusack wanted to have some fun, and brought this film to Michael Nesmith's Pacific Arts Company (not known for its high production values), and banged it out between schedules.

It's always a treat to see John Cusack and Tim Robbins acting in the same film. I believe "Tapeheads" is the first one where they co-headline, and it is great!

As a cult film, it has all of the factors that make it worthwhile (subtle sight gags, quotable lines, a stream of cameos, random tangent scenes (the Roscoe's Chicken and Waffle commercial), and satirical jabs (in this case the music video industry.)

Minor spoilers ahead:

My one complaint is that the ending could have been a little sharper. The final chase and apprehension of the politician's videotape should have been more suspensful, and I didn't buy the Swanky Modes' concert performance. Do you think a concert hall full of people waiting to see Menudo would be won over by one song by two aging R&B stars? Who knows. Maybe this was a subtle jab at Michael Nesmith's former band, who inexplicably gained a new following in the mid-'80s when MTV started airing episodes of "The Monkees" 3 times a day.
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4/10
Dryly irreverent...ridiculous...and sometimes very funny
moonspinner557 July 2007
"Tapeheads", a scrappy, intermittently funny spoof of the music video business, might have been the perfect comedic short, and stars John Cusack and Tim Robbins are effortlessly in the swing of the nonsensical chaos involved. They play two semi-savvy security guards in Los Angeles who start their own company, Video Aces, making hilarious videos for groups, parties, and one deathbed star. It's too bad the filmmakers had to invent a dim side-plot to pad the running time (shenanigans involving a crooked politician and his henchmen which doesn't do much except take away from the movie's primary strength, sending-up the music culture of the late-'80s). Still, Cusack and Robbins create a couple of originals here: nerdy but loose, street-smart without being hipsters or posers, these guys are on the same nutty wavelength, and they never put each other down. They're the real thing in buddy-comedies. *1/2 from ****
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10/10
A brilliant, feel-good comedy with an outstanding soundtrack.
cei30 November 1998
The chemistry between Cusack and Robbins is readily apparent in this off-beat comedy. The film is full of clever, yet not-so-obvious sight-gags including the casting of Zander Schloss as both a heavy-metal fan and an R&B concert-goer.

Sam Moore and Junior Walker pair up as the fictitious band "The Swanky Modes" adding a number of very soulful tunes to the soundtrack. To quote Josh & Ivan in the movie "We love the Swanky Modes."
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7/10
Lets Get Into Trouble, Baby
mattressman_pdl18 May 2008
Tragically little seen, Tapeheads is a quirky, fun little 80's comedy starring two actors of fantastic talent: John Cusack and Tim Robbins.

Tapeheads is the story of Josh and Ivan, two security guards who decide to follow their dream of directing music videos after a little fun with security cameras lands them both jobless. Josh, a sweet, intelligent young man is out there for artistic integrity. Ivan is in it for the cold hard cash. Their road to fame and misfortune includes commercials, living wills, 80's hair bands, and a senator with a princess fetish. After stumbling on the senator's secret, Josh and Ivan find themselves in way over their heads.

The film is hard to find, but worth the attempt. For every gag that doesn't work, there is three of four gags that work wonderfully. Highlights include a brief broken elevator ride for Ivan and a music video done on no budget. Watch out for the paint.
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7/10
Film spoofs the video stars.
Son_of_Mansfield4 May 2006
Warning: Spoilers
There is a scene with a music executive watching a music video that consists of random shots of animals mixed with cleavage and butt shots of bikini clad girls. He loves it. Later on, a pretentious critic gives The Blender Children's new video, a funeral set to one of their songs, an emphatic thumbs up. Both videos were either slapped together or botched up. That is a good representation of the music video genre as a whole. As for the film, future A-listers Tim Robbins and John Cusack fool around in a punky film that could have been directed by Alex Cox. The film is uneven, as most punk films are, the movie jokes not being nearly as successful as the music video jokes. The scene where two girls square off with nun-chucks and switchblades just doesn't seem to fit and Clu Gulager's sex scandal politician sub-plot is left too far in the background. But nobody has ever roasted music videos as well as Tapeheads.
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10/10
One of my all time favorites
gobzine26 December 2005
First of all the movie is full of memorable quotes, I have been quoting bits and pieces of this movie since I first saw it in the late 80's. "What sort of 'production value' do you want for no money?" he he...

It's fun, hilarious, clever, poignant, hip and full of great cameo's (Don Cornelius is masterful as Moe Fuzz).

The music is top-notch too, gotta love 'Roscoes rap' by King Cotton and the Swanky Modes are great. We used to play this album on college FM radio back in the day when there WAS college FM radio.

Kudos to director, Mike "Woolhat" Blessing (ok so the Monkees TV show was in re-runs when this movie came out! check out "Head" for another overlooked classic!
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How are sooo many sooo wrong about this movie...
jinx500011 July 2004
...oh, yeah, most people are braying morons who wouldn't know a whip tight 80's comedy if it came out on DVD 15 years later with jokes that could still bite a chunk out of Adam Sandler's/Ben Stiller's/even Will Ferrell's ass. I saw this in the theater when it came out and couldn't fathom how the rest of the country wasn't chanting "Let's get into trouble, baby!" Then I remembered the country's median IQ and dismal reading levels and it was clear that this flick just moved too quickly for cinema dwellers who were looking for something a little less challenging than "Mannequin". "Teach me to read." "Sign my butt." "Don't bulls--- me! I'm a big cello fan! Casales died years ago!" "Josh is a visual visionary he communicates in images not antiquated verbosity, maybe that's why he's been so hard to understand recently." RENT-A-FACADE. "The Blender Children are mulch!" "Waffles' just pancakes with little squares on 'em." Not to mention the fact that the whole shebang is a slap in the face to Mtv produced by the creator of the network, Mike Nesmith. If that ain't subversive enough for you then go rank "Mannequin 2: On the Move" a ten and leave the real comedy to those that get it.
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10/10
Great hilarious movie
FLaneBarnes27 October 1999
I thought that this movie was so funny I was crying during the baby doll music video. Also during Hermans will. "Okay I'm tired now I think I'll go to sleep!" Then his head rolls over. I thought the voice John Cusack used for that was hilarious. A definate must see!
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7/10
Has its moments but needed more
preppy-312 July 2008
Ivan Alexeev (John Cusack) and Josh Tager (Tim Robbins) try to break into the L.A. music scene in the late 1980s. Quirky Samantha Gregory (Mary Crosby) tries to help.

I caught this back in the late 1980s at a small art house. The audience loved it and it was held over for a few weeks. Back then I thought it was just great. Seeing it now, 20 years later, its charms have faded. It is very energetic and Cusack, Robbins and Crosby are just great. There's also a large cast of character actors in small roles that help. The commercial parodies and music videos are funny and inventive. BUT the film gets repetitious real quick--the same jokes are made over and over. It's also very dated (you have to laugh when a character says "Video is the future"), has plenty of bad jokes and some real mediocre songs. Still this has enough good moments to give it a 7 and the closing song/video during the closing credits is lots of fun! Ex MTV DJ Martha Quinn appears as a--music TV DJ! This might work better with an audience.
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5/10
Amusing if nothing else
lschoux27 November 2001
It's not a bad movie but not worth buying it on DVD (as I did). Funny at times but you somewhat get drawn automatically towards a happy ending.

The DVD version had quite a bad soundtrack (with the exception of the music score).

Reminded me of Weird Al's "UHF" (who b.t.w. makes a cameo in this flick) but less hilarious.

Good for one run, then bury it at the bottom of the stack.
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10/10
Swanky Modes Rule!!!!
j-malloy55 March 2006
Punk-Disco-Blues and the 80's, especially blues. Great music! Lots of one liners.

It has some stupid moments, but that is all of the fun. The stupid moments are fun if you have a sense of humor. Almost every John Cusack movie is good, and this one is no exception. Tons of celebrities. Come on Ronald Reagan? I must have watched this movie about 100 times and I see something new every time. The fun of being a complete screw up who makes it is fun in itself. A UIFOP-while having a twinkie. Oh yes and Billie and Lester - the Swankie Modes! The Swankie Modes rock out.

We love Menudo!!!
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10/10
...modes!
chuckc18 February 2005
My bestest memory of this film, that I love dearly, is (to me) a great story (bear with me). I live in a suburb of Chicago. This film was playing at the late, lamented Oakbrook Theatre. I saw it on the night that the Chicago Bears were playing the season opening game on Monday Night Football, the first game after the won the Super Bowl a couple months back. The Chicago area was very (to say the very least...) of their home team... ...and I don't like sports

Consequently, I was the only person in the theatre. And as I mentioned, I loved the film. I felt very elitist as I left the show, feeling that I had done a better job of spending 90 minutes than everyone else That I knew. Of course, when I tried recommending the film to anyone else, it was meant with indifference.

This film, besides being really good, will always be in my book of cool for this reason (my "private screening" if you will...) if nothing else. Should I ever be lucky enough to meet Mr. Cusack, or Mr. Robbins, I would be proud to personally thank them for this experience.
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Self-Descriptive Goof
tedg15 June 2001
Warning: Spoilers
Spoilers herein.

Films like this take a chance of being just too dumb and silly. This one works for me, but it likely will not for you.

The thing that makes it work for me is to constantly be aware of the context. A producer is a Monkee. A writer the guy who did `Charlie's Angels.' The sex interest Bing Crosby's daughter! Cusak and Robbins just plain acting as goofy as they can.

Ordinarily, this excess just turns me off as in say `me Myself and Irene' or `Reservoir Dogs.' But this a goofy film about two guys who do what? Make goofy films. And the values they have in the film are the values of the film. I love this stuff.
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2/10
How stupid!
sambuca10 March 2000
Tim Robbins and John Cusack are two actors I have appreciated throughout their careers, and that was the only reason for choosing to watch this movie. Well, all I can say is I totally regretted it! These two great actors humiliate themselves all the way through by performing a number of irrelevant, unimaginative and kitch to the extreme (not that this is bad on its own)sketches that are supposed to make people laugh, but fail to do so. The only reason I can think is that the director was their friend, and they decided to support his movie by starring in it-I can't think of anything else because this movie is SO cheap! Fortunately Tim Robbins and John Cusack haven't disappointed me ever since. I would recommend you to avoid this film, unless you want your opinion about the two actors spoiled.
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i thought i had only seen this movie
sampanaflex30 September 2000
starting with the opening credits with the song "bet your bottom dollar on me" and the line "dad put his fingers in it!" i knew this was a cult classic in the making. this film should not only be awarded posthumous awards for sheer, naked drop dead funny lines ("work time's over, drinkin' times begun") to obnoxiously funny music video parodies (can anyone forget the feathers in "my baby doll"?) to bobcat goldthwait as a pre-tony robbins influential speaker (cash-flow, cash-flow, cash-flow). my best friend and i watched this movie for years, and now a dvd release...to hell with extras, this is TAPEHEADS... btw, if anyone has the soundtrack....
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9/10
Irrelevant or irreverent
batzi8m18 November 1999
An apparent throw away about two aspiring music video makers takes on the political system, censorship and soul music exploitation. Think Blues Brothers on a smaller more intimate scale with social relevance and cultural irreverence.

Best line is given by the FBI man played by Jello Biafra, former lead singer of the Dead Kennedys, when the protagonist complains of censorship and first amendment rights.

"Oh yeah, did you see what we did to the Dead Kennedys."
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7/10
A Love Letter to 1980s Video Culture
gavin694228 May 2015
After losing their jobs as security guards, best friends Ivan (John Cusack) and Josh (Tim Robbins) start a music video production company called "Video Aces".

This is very much a 1980s movie, which captures that 1980s music video culture perfectly. For me, I missed most of that and really got into music around 1992-1994, still a great time for MTV and music videos. So I get the general idea, though the 80s were by far a crazier decade.

This is also a great entry in John Cusack's career. He could not have made this much later than the mid-80s teen movies he was working on, and yet seems like such an adult here. A fun-loving, Fishbone-liking adult. But still an adult. Was there ever a time when Cusack was not at the top of his game?
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10/10
Two guys trying to follow their dreams!
latentcontentdeath16 June 2006
This movie is so awesome! One of the most fun movies of all time. I can watch this movie over and over again, in fact I did just yesterday! This movie is great for all ages, my dad gave it to me and my brother when it was released on VHS back in the day (we were kids) and we loved it and still till this day I always watch it when it's on TV or when I feel like popping in a movie. The movie is funny as hell and full of fun and funny music. So if you have kids this is a great movie for them to see too, they'll be running around the house for the next month or so trying to make music videos.If you haven't watched this movie you are missing out on the better things in life!
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