UHF (1989) / Comedy
MPAA rated PG-13 for sexual references, violence, disturbing images and mild language
Running time: 97 min.
Cast: Al Yankovic, Michael Richards, Victoria Jackson, Kevin McCarthy, David Bowe, Stanley Brock, Anthony Geary, Gedde Watanabe, Raul Hernandez, Billy Barty, Fran Drescher
Cameo: Emo Philips
Director: Jay Levey
Screenplay: Al Yankovic, Jay Levey
Review published November 27, 2011
Yankovic (Tapeheads, Naked Gun) stars as the highly imaginative, but occupationally struggling nerd George Newman, who is recruited by his uncle Harvey (Brock, Night of the Comet) to head up his struggling local UHF television station, channel 62. Finally able to put his imagination to use, George decides to come up with lots of ideas for original programming, but it isn't until the fluke recruiting of a newly fired janitor named Stanley (Richards, Bee Movie) that his station gets the attention it needs to not only succeed, but also become the unlikely #1 station in the city. However, RJ Fletcher (McCarthy, Innerspace), the head of the former #1 station, is out to purchase the UHF outlet and shut it down for good. Harvey needs the money in a hurry, but he's willing to give his kin the chance to match the funds. So the telethon is on to save the station, but Fletcher has a few monkey wrenches to toss in the works.
Satirist of song, 'Weird Al' Yankovic, takes his talents to the realm of movies where he not only gives us more pop song parodies, he also mocks famous scenes from movies and pokes fun at the banality of television at the same time. Yankovic fans will likely be more tolerable of the silly, often black humor that abounds throughout this thinly held together stories set up merely to have Al poke fun at all things pop culture for the 1980s through a series of skits meant to be part of his character's vivid imagination. It's done in extreme screwball comedy style, not terribly different, at least when George is in daydream mode, from films like Airplane and The Naked Gun, and some of the broader Mel Brooks farces.
The storyline is the staple of saving one's job, very similar to the flick FM from a decade before, except without the pretense of saving the media from commercialization. As far as humor goes, it's firmly entrenched on the stupid side, though some may appreciate the inventiveness in the dumb gags. Such vignettes include movie parodies like 'Gandhi II' (where Gandhi becomes an urban vigilante), and 'Conan the Librarian', while the TV shows consist of such bold-faced idiocy as 'Wheel of Fish', where contestants compete for their weight in fish. Even commercials are spoofed, such as the absurdist commercial for the world's largest chain of spatulas, Spatula City. You won't find nearly as many song parodies as you'd expect -- the only notable one being the 'Ballad of Jed Clampett', which is basically an interpolation of the "Beverly Hillbillies" theme song done to the tune (and the look of the music video) of Dire Straits' 'Money for Nothing'.
The film's main liability comes though the black hole of screen presence by Yankovic, who may have given the world of radio and video some funny send-ups of popular songs, but he fails to translate this humor to being a funny comedic actor, despite a valiant effort. Not surprisingly, it remains his sole starring role in a theatrical release. He's frequently upstaged, both as part of the story and in the movie as a whole, from the very impressive physical slapstick provided by comedian Michael Richards, doing much of the jittery shtick he would come to be known for in the TV comedy, "Seinfeld".
When a film tosses this many gags at the screen, some are bound to hit even if most miss. How many hit enough to keep a string of laughs coming depends greatly on the humor threshold of the beholder, so if you are a consummate laugher -- a person who finds humor in most anything crass or juvenile -- perhaps UHF will be just the thing that hits the spot. However, as a film, it's a tired and very farfetched plot that serves as merely a springboard, and a tangential one at that, for "SCTV" caliber spoofs that feel too familiar to think of as anything remarkable.
©2011 Vince Leo