UHF (Review)

1989

97 min

United States

Director: Jay Levey

Writer: "Weird Al" Yankovic & Jay Levey

Stars: "Weird Al" Yankovic, Victoria Jackson, Kevin McCarthy

Release Date: July 21, 1989 (United States)


UHF is a goldmine of spoofs and goofs... and not much else.

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As a young teen I discovered the music of "Weird Al" and had really found one of my spiritual guides in life. While many my age were standing up to imitate the real Slim Shady (Eminem), I was always closer to Al Yankovic. When I discovered he had written and starred in a movie back in 1989, I acquired the DVD, watched it repeatedly and have been fond of it since. Some years have passed and I figured the 25th Anniversary of UHF was as good an excuse as any to throw the ol' disc back in and let the memories roll.

Premises are sometimes simple excuses for a film to serve what it really wants. UHF is a classic example: Daydreaming George Newman (Yankovic) cannot seem to hold down a "real" job until his Uncle lets him run a floundering UHF station won in a poker match. This is all a winded set-up to showcase the various programming George and his buddy Bob can line up: Absurdist infomercials, politically incorrect talk shows and a trailer for Gandhi II ("No more Mr. Passive Resistance"). I would wager more people select "Scene Selection" than "Play Movie" on the DVD of UHF as chances are you'll want to relieve some of the skits found herein instead of going through the whole story. 

UHF is a series of skits and gags with a wispy narrative strung throughout like a game of "connect the dots." Often time there's no attempt to even relate the show or reverie with the scenes on either side of it. It's essentially the changing of a TV channel. When an entire scene feels like it exists for a single punchline, it's particularly a drag. Sometimes there's not even a punchline! The worst offender might be when George snoozes off in his office and we're all the sudden watching his "Money for Nothing / Beverly Hillbillies" music video (which just might feature the worst CGI in the history of the movies).

Why am I pissing on my childhood fun? Have I really mutated into a jaded film snob? Maybe, but I also grew up. That said, even today there's characters and moments that put a smile on my face or draw forth an immature guffaw. Kevin McCarthy as R.J. Fletcher, the owner of the rival network station, is a nasty lot of amusement. Lou B. Washington is the noble workman tasked to film most of George's concepts, his wide-eyed expressions crack me up to this day. Of course, Michael Richards as Stanley Spadowski is nothing short of a legendary character.

Did UHF want to tell a better story or make us care about it? I don't think so. It's much more content whisking us away to Spatula City or taking time at the beginning of a scene to show a blind man working on a Rubik's Cube. It exists for wry one-liners and goofy distractions. I don't actually care about George Newman at all because he is merely a parody delivery device, the manic soul running through all of "Weird Al"'s albums brought into a rather one-dimensional onscreen presence.

"Weird Al" is a musical genius (and last week's release of Mandatory Fun proves that he still is), but I rarely listen to an entire album of his in one sitting, and certainly wouldn't marathon through more than one. Yet that's what the running time of UHF equates toAnd Al never was the actor that he was the singer. His physical routine is better suited to 3-minute music videos or stage shows. There's a lot of content in UHF and those who know it (and know that they dig it) know where to find it. Others will simply want to tune it out.

Badgers? Badgers? We don’t need no stinking badgers.
— Raul Hernandez