Reviewed by Blake Kenny
It’s hard to be a product of the 70’s - who grew up and was raised by television in the 80’s - and not have some kind of familiarity with Weird Al Yankovic. Simply put the 1980’s were a time when MTV was all the rage and shows like Friday Night Videos kept many young kids and teenagers alike up way past their bedtimes. Music videos were hot, not to say that they aren’t still hot today, but back then it was all fairly new to us and nothing could beat seeing your favorite performers on something other than magazines pages
It was during these early days of the music video that the curly haired Weird Al Yankovic - dressed in his now trademark Hawaiian t-shirts first made his presence know. At least it’s the first time that I recall seeing him. Weird Al essentially made a career out of taking the latest, greatest pop culture hits of the time and twisting and contorting them into his own unique - and some may say - seriously twisted vision. While the musical beat from these hit tunes remained much the same, the lyrics always fell pray to his wacky sense of humor. Song lyrics were entirely re-written and along with his usually hilarious music videos - Weird Al instantly became the granddaddy of the modern day parody.
Mega hits like Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” were put under the knife and sown back together with new titles such as “Like a Surgeon”. Michael Jackson - who was undeniably at the peak of his career in the 80’s fell victim to Weird Al several times; with humorous adaptations like “Fat” instead of Jackson’s original - “Bad.” Few, big name celebrities of the time were spared. In fact, even to this day, Weird Al is still poking fun at some of our newest sensations. “Pretty fly for a Rabbi” is a parody of Offspring’s hit song “Pretty Fly for a White Guy” - and the list goes on.
One might assume that the butchering of these now classic songs would incite the wrath of the original artists, but this was seldom the case. In fact, many considered Weird Al’s parodies to be a sign of you status in the industry of singer/songwriters. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery - and Weird Al selected only the biggest hits to make a mockery of.
With all of his success making truckloads of crazy music videos and releasing several albums, it was only a matter of time before Weird Al made his transition to the big screen; and that my friends is were UHF comes in.
UHF, which was partially written by Weird Al tells the tale of George Newman (of course played by Weird Al) as young man who goes from one dead end job to another and seems to have a rather difficult time keeping his over active imagination in check. As the story opens, George is fired from yet another job and seems to have absolutely no direction in his life. Opportunity strikes when his uncle Harvey (Stanley Brock) - who is clearly addicted to gambling, happens to win the deed to a rather pathetic and dying UHF channel. Since uncle Harvey has absolutely no interest what so ever in running the station himself, he reluctantly hands over the management duties to his nephew George. George makes a run at keeping the TV station going as well as he can; choosing not only to play the excessive number or television re-runs in the stations library, but to venture out and create his own unique programming as well. When it becomes painfully clear that the station is doomed to bankruptcy - he walks out in the middle of his newly created children’s show, on the way handing the reigns over to his bumbling idiot of a Janitor - Stanley Spadowski (played my Michael Richards).
“How’d you like your own TV show?”
So the tide turns and as luck my have it, Spadowski’s screen presence, along with his dimwitted personally instantly turns the show and the stations fortune around. The renamed - “Stanley Spadowski’s Clubhouse” becomes a huge hit with children and adults alike. This comes to no surprise since Michael Richards, who is best known for his role as Cosmo Kramer in TV’s Seinfeld already shows an amazing flair for comedy. Even at this point in his career, the early signs of what will one day be Cosmo Kramer are already very evident. Richards' ability to play off of props and bounce off the walls is uncanny; and in many ways he steals the show from what is basically Weird Al Yankovic’s movie.
Anyway, I digress. Adding to the stations already growing popularity, George uses his vivid imagination - as only Weird Al Yankovic can - to create a whole slew of additional new shows. All are equally ridiculous and at the same time sadistically interesting, you know, it’s kinda like trying to look away from a car crash. After all, who wouldn’t want to win their body weight in fresh fish on the stations latest game show “The Wheel of Fish”. And who doesn’t want to learn more about the wonders of nature on “Raul’s Wild Kingdom”, which is filmed on location directly from Raul’s apartment. Other new shows include “Town Talk with George” which is basically trash TV similar to today’s ”Jerry Springer” and last but not least “Conan the Librarian” - who displays unrelenting anger when your library books are returned overdue. Throughout the movie Yankovic also pokes fun, like he did with his music videos, at a lot of pop culture films. Close Encounter of the Third Kind, Raider of the Lost Ark and Rambo just to name a few.
It at about this point in my review that you’re probably wonder if this movie has any plot what so ever. Well it does, all be it a small one. The film essentially follows a very simplistic and time-honoured formula. It’s the little guy versus the tyrannical corporate giant. When UHF channel 62’s ratings begin to soar, another local TV station - a network affiliate controlled by the power hungry and perpetually cranky R.J. Fletcher (Kevin McCarthy) begins to feel the pressure - and it’s here that the real story begins.
It seems that Uncle Harvey’s gambling has become quite a problem and he’s amassed a rather sizable debt of $75k. R.J. Fletcher seeing this as his easiest way to rid himself of George Newman’s quirky programming once and for all plans to buy Uncle Harvey’s debt in exchange for channel 62’s ownership. Once he has it, there’s nothing to stop him from bulldozing the little TV station into the ground and once again achieving television superiority. However, all is not lost. George finds himself with 48 hours to figure out a way to get some money together and purchase for the station himself - thus saving UHF channel 62 from going off the air - permanently.
As far as the cast in concerned it’s pretty hard to argue over the choice of Weird Al Yankovic as the star, especially since he wrote it with himself in mind.. Weird Al’s character comes across as a lovable and innovative person who means well and seems to have the best intentions with everything he does.
Despite Weird Al being hilarious, I really have to throw kudos toward Michael Richards, who was easily the most interesting actor in the entire movie. He’s perfectly cast in the role of the immature or perhaps - mentally challenged janitor Stanley Spadowski. He’s a very physical comedian who’s seems capable of producing big laughs without even saying a word.
Kevin McCarthy is also great as the villainous R.J. Fletcher, owner/operator of channel 8. As the only reputable actor (at least when this movie was filmed) in the entire picture, McCarthy seems to have little difficulty adapting to a comedic role.
Also making an appearance as Weird Al’s love interest we find former Saturday Night Live regular Victoria Jackson. Jackson also has very little screen time. That’s not really a bad thing since the romantic chemistry between Yankovic and Jackson is rather laughable, even in the context of a movie that isn’t intended to be taken seriously in the first place. Jackson currently resides in the “Where are they now?” files.
Rounding out the cast we find Fran Drescher from the hit TV show The Nanny. She plays channel 62’s secretary and aspiring news anchor. Fortunately for us she gets very little screen time, which is a welcome relief since that whinny, high pitched and utterly horrible voice of hers seems to cause blood to start pouring from my ears every time she opens her mouth.