Sunday, July 20, 2014

UHF - A Humorous Time Capsule From The Years Of Analog TV

Within the last week, popular parody artist “Weird Al” Yankovic has released his newest album, Mandatory Fun, to much fanfare while also representing the end of his long-standing recording contract. To commemorate this, we on this blog present a review of his 1989 feature film, UHF (Note: The title refers to the Ultra High Frequency analog band, which was how low-budget programming was often broadcasted on TV). When this movie was originally released, the original distributor, Orion Pictures, was facing financial trouble, and so believed that this movie would rescue them from bankruptcy due to test audiences reacting positively. However, the movie ended up being a major flop in theaters (it was released in the same summer as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade; Ghostbusters II; When Harry Met Sally; Honey, I Shrunk the Kids; and Tim Burton’s Batman to name a few), and thus wasn’t exactly the savior they were hoping for. I’m not sure I would say this failure at the box office was to blame, but Orion would go under some time later and get swallowed by MGM, a fact so well-known to the point that it was used as a punchline in Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie. The good news though is that UHF would attain cult status after hitting the home video market, where it would remain successful for quite some time; it quickly went out of print when it hit on VHS, causing demand to become so high that it became a #1 seller not long after its later DVD release. While its popularity as a cult film is something that continues to persist, is UHF a movie worth tuning in to?

The story opens with a parody of the opening scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, which is soon revealed to be the daydream of George Newman (“Weird Al” Yankovic), whose overactive imagination keeps costing him and his friend, Bob Steckler (David Bowe), a number of jobs, including their current one at Big Edna’s Burger World. Once the two of them get fired, George finds it hard to face his girlfriend, Teri Campbell (Victoria Jackson), and during their conversation he ends up constructing mashed potatoes in the shape of a hillside in a brief parody of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Later at a party, George’s uncle, Harvey Bilchik (Stanley Brock), arrives after winning the deed to a UHF station in a gamble, later giving it to George after a suggestion from his wife. Sometime later, when George and Teri arrive at the station to scope it out, George is weirded out at first by its sole resident, a scientist named Philo (Anthony Geary), but decides anyway to try and turn the station into a success.

Indiana Jones fans should be able to recognize this.

Using this premise, not to mention the part of the plot where the UHF station (Channel U62) faces some competition with Channel 8, the movie is able to showcase some great comedy, with George’s (day)dreams and the channel’s programming offering a perfect excuse for a good portion of the humor to take place. There are a few moments of gross-out humor here and there, which I’m personally not too fond of in comedies, but these moments are overshadowed by such gems as a game show called Wheel of Fish and fake ads for such things as a U62 program called Conan the Librarian and a store named Spatula City. Of course, there’s also a good deal of slapstick and funny dialogue to help mix up the humor a bit, but through all of this the movie also manages to tell a coherent story from beginning to end. Aside from a few misses here and there in the comedy, these elements combined result in a very funny movie, although admittedly some of the parodies present would only really be funny to someone familiar in any way with what is being parodied (for example, a music video parody of the Dire Straits song “Money for Nothing” and its music video).

Wheel of Fish: It's like Wheel of Fortune, except not really.

On the subject of music, that is another positive aspect of UHF, some of which includes original material by “Weird Al” Yankovic (it is his movie after all). When the background music is there, it does help the tone of a scene, to the point of also being able to sell some of the parodies on display. As mentioned previously, one of these parodies includes a Dire Straits song, the parody called “Money for Nothing/Beverly Hillbillies*” (because lawyers), and while the music video does have some context, it does appear to come somewhat out of nowhere, seeming to primarily serve as a way to show the video. Getting back on track, the soundtrack is good and is available as a “Weird Al” album, UHF – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack and Other Stuff, though it should be noted that the album also has some original material on it due to not being able to include all the music and sound bites on it that they wanted. Some of said “other stuff” to me is better than others, but if you enjoy some of the music and audio from the movie, then this is an album worth seeking out.

Available now!

The movie also has a pretty decent cast, with “Weird Al” Yankovic himself showing that he has some range as the lead character George Newman (though this is also evident in some of the many TV cameos he has made over the years in various cartoons). David Bowe helps to serve as a good secondary lead to Yankovic, though he’s more or less in the background for much of the latter half of the movie, and Michael Richards does a good job as Stanley Spadowski, who gets in some funny moments of his own. Kevin McCarthy also does a great job with his character R.J. Fletcher, the mean head of Channel 8 who would want nothing more than for Channel U62 to go under. The movie also has a good supporting cast, with cameos made by Emo Phillips and Dr. Demento, the latter of whom Yankovic owes much of his musical success to, with a special mention to Trinidad Silva in his final film role as Raul, who runs an animal show on U62 from his apartment; unfortunately, Silva passed before his parts could be completed, though his character was kept in the movie in his memory. In any case, I wouldn’t really have any complaints about the acting or the casting.

Raul's (Trinidad Silva) parts are worth it for a laugh.

UHF is a funny movie and deserving of its cult following, though it’s mainly for fans of “Weird Al” Yankovic and the style of humor the movie presents. It has a good cast and a great sense of humor for the most part, and Yankovic’s music shines through when possible, most notably in the aforementioned Dire Straits parody. This isn’t one of the greatest movies ever made, nor is it exactly for everyone, but for fans of Yankovic’s work this is definitely a must-see. If you are a fan of comedy movies and just want a good laugh, this movie is probably one of the better options to consider.

Here’s hoping “Weird Al” Yankovic sees success in any future endeavors.

On sale now!

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