..

UHF

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  “Weird Al” Yankovic, Kevin McCarthy, Michael Richards, David Bowe, Victoria Jackson, Fran Drescher, Emo Philips
Director:  Jay Levey
Audio:  Dolby Stereo Surround
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1, Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  MGM
Features:  See Review
Length:  97 Minutes
Release Date:  June 4, 2002

“I think Siskel and Ebert thought I was the antichrist.” – “Weird Al” Yankovic on UHF

Film ***

Every movie reviewer has one or two odd favorites that risks getting their critic’s membership card revoked.  For me, one of those is UHF, a little film conceived, co-written by and starring pop icon smasher “Weird Al” Yankovic.  I defend my liking this film simply because I’ve always been a mega-fan of Al…I’ve owned all his records and video collections, and considered his satirical deflation of popular music as necessary a commodity as it was funny.  And besides, if Roger Ebert can get away with giving thumbs up to Anaconda and Speed II, I think I’m entitled to select this film as a guilty pleasure.

It’s all about liking Al…if you don’t, chances are, you didn’t even click on this review.  If you like him okay, you might find UHF a pleasantly amusing if ultimately inconsequential experience.  But if you really embrace what he does, then you’ll find this a film that does for TV and movies what Al has always done with hit songs, and that is to bring them down to a base level in a good-spirited way.

The plot is worthless…Al plays George Newman, a dreamer who can’t seem to make his imagination work for him, until his uncle gives him a chance at running U-62, the lowest rated network in the city.  Along with friend and partner Bob (Bowe), he gives it his best shot by basically putting anything and anybody on the air.  A goofy janitor named Stanley (Richards) becomes a mega-hit as a kids’ show host.  Wheel of Fish turns out big as a game show.  Raul’s Wild Kingdom takes a bizarre look at animals.  And so on.

The station becomes a success, which draws the ire of a local network affiliate’s owner (McCarthy), who sets out to rid the community of U-62 once and for all!  Can George save the day, stay on the air, and keep the love and affection of his long suffering girlfriend Teri (Jackson)?

Who cares?  The story is nothing but an excuse for “Weird Al” parodies of everything from talk shows to Rambo to Raiders of the Lost Ark and more.  None of these really has anything to do with the story, but they’re hysterical!  If you don’t believe me, check out segments like Conan the Librarian or Gandhi II (“he’s back, and he’s mad”), or the memorable commercial parodies.  Spatula City?  Gotta love it.

Al surrounds himself with a solid comic cast for his first (and so far, only big screen endeavor), but most notable is an early appearance by Michael Richards.  For “Seinfeld” fans, he’ll always be Kramer, but for the “Weird Al” crowd, he’s Stanley first and foremost.  He attacks the role with physical vigor and childlike enthusiasm that’s kept him a fan favorite for over a decade.

Oh, and lest you worry, there is also music to go along with the other hijinks.  Al’s original tune “UHF” is here, along with the clever Dire Straits spoof “Beverly Hillbillies”.  Each went on to become MTV staples in their day.

I’ll admit, UHF isn’t anybody’s concept of great filmmaking.  It may not even be one of the better spoofs, a genre that contains such classics as Airplane! and Scary Movie.  All I can say is that I saw the picture three times during its theatrical run, and as short as that run was, that took some effort.

“Weird Al” made one for the fans here.  It may not have overwhelmed at the box office, but it’s gone on to achieve cult status over the years.  Now, a film that wasn’t even available on video for a number of years comes to DVD.  For those of us who have been waiting, the arrival is welcome indeed.

Video ***

The video quality has held up well over the years, and presents well with this anamorphic transfer (full frame also included).  It’s not as muted as some films from the 80s tend to look.  Colors maintain their integrity and natural tones, and images are fairly sharp and clear throughout, with very little grain (noticeable mainly in brighter scenes) and only a touch of softness during a few darker moments.  All in all, a worthy effort.

Audio **

The stereo surround track is adequate if not noteworthy.  There’s not much going on with the rear stage, but the front one features some nice, smooth panning effects during key sequences, and dialogue is always clearly rendered.  Dynamic range is fair, with a few louder moments for your audio dollar and a solid score by John du Prez.

Features ****

What a fun features package!  For starters, the menu screens are all animated and feature Al himself in newly filmed bits just for the DVD.  He interacts with the menus, and even offers you a bit of advice when necessary.  There is a terrifically entertaining and funny commentary track with Al and director Jay Levey that also features pop-in appearances by Emo Philips and Michael Richards, along with Victoria Jackson by phone.  Al remembers absolutely EVERYTHING, right down to the street addresses of various locations, and the two discuss every aspect of making the film, from the early stages to the pitch, to the heavy competition it faced upon release.  Al even concludes by reading a number of excerpts from actual critical reviews…ouch!  This commentary is one of the very best.  Oh, and when you watch the movie with this track on, watch out for another surprise or two.

Oh, and there’s more…about 18 minutes of deleted scenes in documentary form, hosted and narrated by Al (“I knew if we didn’t include deleted scenes you people would whine.”).  In most cases, it’s easy to understand why they were cut, and Al even mercifully fast forwards through a couple of tedious ones, but overall, his presentation makes them fun.  There is a 3 minute behind-the-scenes featurette, production stills, a teaser, a trailer, a video for the song “UHF”, and a gallery of posters and promotional materials.  I've also found one Easter Egg, which shows some old footage of Al showing you "what he's got so far" with the movie...then the whole movie plays.  This is as enjoyable a collection of extras as you’re apt to find anywhere.

Summary:

UHF makes me laugh…do I need any other reason to like it?  Many fans don’t, and if you’re one of them, you can’t ask for much better than this DVD offering from MGM, which is one of the most fun discs I’ve yet encountered.