Heavyweights is the story of Gerry, an unpopular chubby kid making his way through grade school. On the first day of summer vacation he finds out that his parents are sending him to fat camp. At first apprehensive, Gerry gets to camp only to find out that this place is actually great. But then all of the campers are called to the main hall to discover that the camp has been sold to a new owner named Tony Perkis. Played with villainous aplomb by Ben Stiller, Tony’s goal is to get the children in shape and turn his weight loss program into a money-making machine. From this point on Tony will be the bad guy of the movie.
Let’s take a second to really deconstruct the plot. Here we have a man with the resources and motivation to actually teach these kids how to lead healthier lives, but he’s the bad guy for wanting to help them avoid juvenile diabetes and early organ failure.
Starting the next day Tony has his staff go through the camp and remove all of the fun activities, including the go-karts, and even the iconic Blob.
Later that day the kids weigh in so that he can track everyone’s progress during their stay at this newly minted fitness camp. We see the first workout which is a sliding board. Imagine speed skating in place with slippery shoes on. When the kids can’t do it they instantly give up and start making jokes. As the day progresses we see Tony try to push the kids in ways that, admittedly, may be a little too extreme at times. He takes away lunch in order to motivate them, and he even schedules a dance with the nearby girl’s camp. This seems to be a tactic to motivate his campers to gain some confidence. Though this effort is undercut once they actually pluck up the courage to start dancing, and Tony ends the dance right there. This seems villainous on its face, but on closer inspection, we’re never shown the time of night this happens. For all we know, it could have been late, we could see in the background that there was no sun. It’s totally plausible; arguably likely even, that Tony was just being a responsible adult, making sure his campers avoid the health ramifications of sleep deprivation. Finally when he takes the kids on a hike they plot against him! They capture our poor hero Tony, and hold him prisoner behind an electrified fence. These are not the actions of well-adjusted children.
Now, let’s take a minute to focus on Gerry, the supposed good-guy star of this movie. A child who, in the stark light of reality, is the main instigator riling up all of his impressionable young co-campers. A child so diabolical, he masterminds a plan to commit several felonies, among which are breaking into Tony’s cabin, kidnapping the poor man, imprisoning him in an electrified cell. What was Tony’s plan for Gerry? A kid who we saw in the beginning of the movie was an outsider at his school? He wanted to make him the face of the whole program! He was trying to turn Gerry into a success story that everyone would strive to emulate, and as a byproduct, theoretically make Gerry more popular at school.
So was Tony Perkis an irredeemable bad guy straight out of central casting? Or was he actually a man with good intentions that simply didn’t know how to get through to the kids? Did he go a little too far in his misguided attempts at motivation? Maybe. But was he a two-dimensional villain with purely malicious intent? Did he deserve to be locked in a makeshift electrified cell and taunted for his efforts? I say certainly not!
What do you think? Weigh in in the comments section below, and while you’re down there don’t forget to check out Film Challenge Detroit!