Viking Night: UHF
By Bruce Hall
April 15, 2014
I think Socrates once said something about how being good at one thing doesn’t mean you’re good at everything. This, of course, came from the mouth of a man who would later be forced to drink those words. Maybe that’s because the words are true. No one can do it all, but at the height of his fame, “Weird Al” Yankovic had a lot of opportunities land on his doorstep. And when one makes fun of Michael Jackson and actually looks good doing it, one has earned such privileges. But with great power comes great irresponsibility, and throughout history, it has been the undoing of many a great man.
So it was decided that such a man, talented enough to record a hit song on the accordion and direct his own music videos, would have no trouble also being a movie star. Yankovic, the prolific creator of highly polished radio friendly rock parodies (he’s still at it, by the way) was at least on par with Don Johnson’s stubble at defining the 1980s, so who’s to say the man can’t act? Well I have eyes, and they tell me everything I need to know. And they have rendered a very different verdict on Weird Al’s acting chops than they did when they were in high school. Sadly, time has not been kind to all my childhood delights - but at least UHF was supposed to be funny. Don Johnson’s singing voice was not.
The premise behind UHF sounds like the setup to an episode of The Young Ones, which is probably why the movie hurries right through it. All you need to know is that George Newman (Weird Al) is a rudderless daydreamer whose modestly attractive girlfriend Teri (Victoria Jackson) has been encouraging him to branch out. So, he takes his best friend Bob (David Bowe) with along him as the newly minted owners of UHF Channel 62. Don’t worry about how. Just remember kids, as I’ve said before, that UHF was kind of like the internet, a vast frontier that had Channel 62 somewhere between reruns of Gilligan’s Island and digitally scrambled soft-core porn. Unfortunately, George and Bob’s dream job goes south fast, as their God-given talent for watching TV while eating hot dog infused Twinkies fails to translate to the business world.
Luckily, an unlikely turn of events puts eccentric janitor Stanley Spadowski (a pre social pariah Michael Richards) in front of a bunch of first graders with a camera rolling. The man is some kind of Child Whisperer, and just like that, Channel 62 has a hit show. Within what seems like maybe two days, because it’s a movie, they’re the number one station in town. This does not sit well with their cross-town rival, the nefarious R.J. Fletcher (Kevin McCarthy). As ruthless owner of Channel 8, an obvious practitioner of nepotism and personal nemesis to Stanley Spadowski, Fletcher’s job is to be the bad guy. So it’s not surprising when he turns his guns on Channel 62 and unleashes the most boring corporate takeover ever devised. Again, don't worry about how; the only detail that matters is that everyone on screen seems to be having so much more fun than you, the poor bastard watching.
Despite the fact that almost nothing about it truly works, UHF has a lot of joyous energy, and everyone really does seem to be having the time of their lives. If the point was to imbue a film with the soul of Weird Al, then by God they nailed it. However, if the point was to make me laugh hard enough to pee - and if it’s 1989 when you ask me – then I would also say they nailed it. But really, the humor is awkward and clumsy; with some of the jokes so dated I’m not even sure I remember what was funny. And the weakest link is Yankovic himself, who isn’t even good enough to convincingly act his way through his own star vehicle. The guy gets blown off the screen by Fran Drescher and Victoria Jackson, and that’s like letting your Mom beat you at Call of Duty.
The fact is that unlike, say, an episode of Seinfeld, there’s not nearly enough irony here to obscure the fact that the star is the only one who can’t act. UHF is an unsophisticated, lighthearted farce about chasing your dreams so you can grow into the kind of guy Victoria Jackson wants to have sex with – and that requires a lead that can at least carry a scene. But every time he’s on screen not playing an instrument, Weird Al just sucks the life out of everything around him. On the upside, Michael Richards is easily the best thing about this movie. His spirited interpretation of Stanley Spadowski finally answers the question - if Forrest Gump and Jon Cryer had a baby, what would it look like?
I guess that’s the best and only reason you might want to take a crack at UHF. Not the hideous love child, but the fact like a really persistent puppy, it wants so BAD to have fun with you. It’s full of energy, although it’s not directed very well. The cast members are all obviously having a blast, but the movie around them is a borderline incompetency. The music is catchy and polished, but too novel to be amusing for more than a moment. All the best parts are things like a Rambo parody that killed at the time, but is now a victim of its own built in obsolescence. But there’s still that magical place called Spatula City - which despite not being funny - still makes me laugh so hard I’m convinced it’s a form of government brainwashing. Weird Al’s talents more than meet their match here but it’s hard not to give him points for effort, just like your neighbor’s dog Socrates, who refuses to go away until you throw him the ball.