Our review of UHF (1989) (Blu-ray) 25th Anniversary Edition, published November 11th, 2014, is also available.
He's on the air…and out of his mind!
If ever there was an actor (and I use that term loosely) geared toward children, it's "Weird Al" Yankovic. For those who grew up in the 1980s you'll recall Yankovic's goofy parody songs borrowed off everyone from Michael Jackson to Dire Straits to Coolio. Album after album, Yankovic went on to become an oddball phenomenon, a man who made millions singing about losing on the game show "Jeopardy" and crooning about living in an "Amish Paradise." At what might be considered the height of Yankovic's career came his first ever motion picture, the uniquely insane comedy UHF. Co-written by and starring Yankovic, the film ended up tanking at the box office upon its release in the summer of 1989 (it didn't help that this was the same season as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Lethal Weapon 2, and Tim Burton's blockbuster smash Batman). A geek film if ever there was one, UHF finally hits DVD care of MGM in a fine edition that will make fans all over the world rise up and do the polka!
Facts of the Case
George Newman ("Weird Al") needs to find a direction in life. He works at Burger World flipping patties with his best bud Bob (David Bowe, The Cable Guy) and dreaming of a better life (this includes finding an Oscar statue in a tropical temple as Indiana Jones). When both of them are fired from their jobs, the two boneheads are given an opportunity by George's Uncle Harvey (the late Stanley Brock) to manage channel 62, a local TV station whose ratings are floating in the toilet. At first things continue to tumble downhill until George stumbles across Stanley Spadowski (Michael Richards, Seinfeld), a freakish janitor whose magnetic personality wins an audience on the channel's kiddie show. As the ratings soar, so does the strangeness of the station's programming: "Wheel of Fish," "Conan the Librarian," and "Gandhi II" all start making 62 the most watched station in town! This doesn't sit well with R.J. Fletcher (Kevin McCarthy, Greedy), the growling, sneering owner of George's rival station, channel 8. As Fletcher hatches a deceptive plan to buy out station 62 and turn it into a rubble heap, George must figure out a way to come up with $75,000 or lose his precious network forever!
Light years before there was Freddy Got Fingered there was the granddaddy of gonzo cinema, UHF. Like Tom Green, "Weird Al" Yankovic has always been the type who enjoys utilizing off-kilter humor as a springboard for even more laughs derived from a plethora of bad taste. In other words, Yankovic gets off on showing a guy throwing poodles out of a ten story window. This, in essence, is the core of UHF: throw enough shit on the wall and eventually some of it will stick.
And to my surprise, some of it does. I'd be lying if I said that I didn't laugh at all during UHF. There are some sporadically funny moments creeping around this movie, especially when Yankovic decides to bring in some of his talented supporting cast. Of them, the best is the puberty-stunted Emo Phillips, a comic staple from the 1980s. Phillips trademark voice pitch and otherworldly look had me in stitches the entire time he was onscreen. Likewise for Michael Richards, playing an early version of the manic Kramer character he'll forever be linked with from the hit show Seinfeld. If ever there was a case for Prozac, it's Richards; sporting some pearly white choppers and the frame of a scarecrow, Richards runs, jumps, and falls more often than the entire Olympic track team combined. As for Yankovic, he's no film star—his slumped posture and sheepish delivery doesn't always translate well to film. Yankovic is likable enough, just not charismatic enough (except when he decides to go spastic during sporadic moments of the film). The amusing Victoria Jackson, all squeaky voice and blonde hair, isn't given enough to do as George's long-suffering girlfriend. She left SNL for this?
Like the superior Amazon Women on the Moon, UHF tries to find humor in strange and unusual TV shows that no one in their right mind would watch. Some of these ideas are inspired ("Conan the Librarian"), while others just fall flat on their butts ("Town Talk with George"). At the same time, there's an unfolding story about the fate of channel 62 and Fletcher's attempts to wrestle control away from George and his band of merry morons. If the film truly fails on any one level, it's in storytelling. UHF needed to permanently pick one side of the fence and stay on it: either tell a story about a TV station in need of redemption, or focus primarily on the strange TV shows at hand. The mix between these two ideas tends to make for a jagged and sometimes frustrating film.
Quibbles. Those who like UHF aren't in it for a well constructed story or fantastic cinematography—fans will likely be waiting around for the scene where Stanley rockets a small child across the stage via a large, pressurized fire hose. Combined, these are the moments that make up UHF's skewered sense of the absurd. The film may not have a very linear structure, but at least it knows how to wring a few laughs out of its audience. Tom Green could stand to take a few notes.
UHF is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. While UHF is not a film that is visually stunning or innovative, this first ever widescreen presentation looks very, very good. The image sometimes sports some soft colors, though this isn't so much a transfer problem as it is a production one. Otherwise, the colors and black levels all appear solid and well saturated with only the slightest hint of grain or dirt showing up. Otherwise, this is a fine looking print for a film that had a meager $10 million dollar budget. Also available on side B is the pan and scan version of the film, or as I like to call it, "the devil's version."
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround in English and French and is appropriately mixed for the material. I wasn't all that impressed with the fidelity of this track (the range of the soundtrack is either a bit muted or too high), and the mix often sounds muddy and inconsistent. However, even with these trouble spots, I can honestly say that I didn't feel as if I needed more from the soundtrack;—a 5.1 remix certainly wasn't warranted (though it would have been welcome). This 2.0 soundtrack won't knock your socks off, but it'll do fine for the job at hand. Also included on this disc is a Dolby Mono soundtrack in Spanish, as well as English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
You've got to hand it to MGM—they may not always do right by DVD, but with cult classics they often come through with shining colors! UHF is a prime example of a film that, by any other studio, might have been given a single theatrical trailer then released without much care. MGM has devoted some time and effort into producing an above average edition of this film with "Weird Al" Yankovic's participation.
Starting off the disc is a commentary track by Al Yankovic, director Jay Levey, and stars Michael Richards, Emo Phillips, and Victoria Jackson. The bulk of this track features Yankovic and Levey discussing and joking about different aspects of the film (self-depreciating humor is always a plus on a commentary track, a la Evil Dead II). When Richards, Jackson, and Phillips show up the track tends to lighten up even more. This is one of the more enjoyable commentary tracks I've listened to and is recommended for fans of the film.
Up next is a brief "behind the scenes" short from 1989. This is a fairly rough, grainy extra that features some mildly amusing production footage, plus interviews with Yankovic, Victoria Jackson, David Bowe, and Michael Richards. Slight, but still enjoyable. The deleted scenes fare much better; included is a reel of around 20 minutes of "lost footage" from the film, featuring a sketch affectionately titled "Those Darn Homos." Ah yes, remember the days when we didn't have to worry about being so darned politically correct? For those interested in seeing Yankovic participating in a love scene with Victoria Jackson, look no further. This is a pretty funny collection of oddities, and like the commentary track, it's worth your time.
Finally, there's a goofy music video for the song "UHF" (featuring Yankovic dressed up as Axl Rose, Prince, and Billy Idol), a gallery of production materials including a teaser trailer, theatrical trailer and ads, and some production stills from the film. A search around the menus will produce some Easter eggs featuring…well, you'll just have to find out for yourself!
Your enjoyment of UHF will depend entirely on how grating you think "Weird Al" is. If you sang along to his songs as a kid, UHF is your cup of moose poop. If you think he belongs in the same group as the Antichrist and Donald Trump, then it may be in your best interest to pass on this flick. MGM has done a fine job on this disc, throwing on enough extra added material to pacify even the most violent Viking librarian!
Against my better judgment I'm letting UHF go…cancellation is not an option! Case dismissed!
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• Commentary by Al Yankovic, Director Jay Levey, and Stars Michael Richards, Emo Phillips, and Victoria Jackson
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