Stay Tuned (1992) / Comedy-Fantasy

MPAA Rated: PG for some violence and language
Running Time: 88 min.

Cast: John Ritter, Pam Dawber, Jeffrey Jones, David Tom, Heather McComb, Eugene Levy, Bob Dishy, Don Pardo (cameo), Lou Albano (cameo), Salt-N-Pepa (cameo)
Director: Peter Hyams
Screenplay: Tom S. Parker, Jim Jennewein

Review published May 31, 2006

I think just about everyone has imagined what it might be like to be sucked into the fantasy world of their own television, appearing on their own favorite shows, rubbing shoulders with their favorite characters.  Stay Tuned takes that fantasy and turns it into a nightmare, with protagonists that don't want to live in this fantasy world, especially when it will most likely mean certain eternal imprisonment or death.  Within the construct of the premise, the script by Parker and Jennewein calls for many modern television shows to be spoofed into their hellish counterparts.  Sadly, these parodies are about the only modestly funny bits in the midst of a plot that seems half-baked from inception.

John Ritter (Sling Blade, Tadpole) stars as Roy Knables, a mediocre plumbing supplies salesman by day, a couch potato at all other times.  It doesn't take long for Roy's wife Helen (Dawber, "Mork & Mindy") to realize that Roy spends far too much time channel surfing and far too little time with her and their two children.  Roy is finally coaxed off of the couch when he is given a brand spanking new entertainment center and satellite system, which unbeknownst to him is actually a device that will suck anyone that ventures too close into a sort of TV Hell, trying to survive the nonstop cavalcade of dangerous television programs designed to put the participants in great peril.

About the best thing one can say about Stay Tuned is that it does manage to change the programs often enough that it does keep us from zoning out completely.  In fact, a few of the parodies are quite clever, although not really funny enough to stick through the whole film to see.  The comedy is suitably dark for the content -- perhaps too dark to deem this as adequate fare for the whole family -- while the production values involved in the recreation of the TV and film parodies are quite good.

That said, the film suffers overall from an overriding quality of lameness that makes it almost impossible to enjoy nearly as much as the creators must think we should.  Starting off with the casting, Ritter and Dawber are performers that never really fare as well when not on the small screen, while Jeffrey Jones (Beetlejuice, Ferris Bueller) plays yet another unappealing villain, not once evoking a chuckle or moment of menace to find remotely interesting.  This also marked the beginning of the end creatively for director Peter Hyams (End of Days, A Sound of Thunder), a man that created some quality films in the 1970s and 80s, but who would only make increasingly vapid, disposable and unsavory fare with every successive film that followed.

Stay Tuned is amusing but never really funny, distracting but never absorbing, and topical but never hip.  it's the kind of film that would only appeal to someone like its main hero -- a couch potato channel surfing for something to grab his attention for a little while that doesn't require deep thought or constant attention.

 Qwipster's rating:

2006 Vince Leo