Back in 1989, Weird Al Yankovic tried to conquer the movies. He did not quite succeed, as this was Al’s only starring role. UHF was low on plot, mainly a vehicle for film and television parody. The film has maintained a cult following, and not without reason.
Yankovic’s UHF is goofy and fun. The basic set up is daydreamer George (Weird Al Yankovic) is just getting by, working minimum wage jobs, unsuccessfully. He is big on imagination, but no idea how to put it into use. His Uncle wins a rundown television station and his wife convinces him to let George run it.
Against all odds, the network succeeds, as George hires local oddballs to have shows. His own attempt at a kids show fails, but when the janitor Stanley Spadowski (Michael Richards) steps in? Ratings skyrocket. This attracts the ire of R.J. Fletcher (Kevin McCarthy), owner of the largest station in the city, who does not want to lose the number one spot. And so hi-jinks ensue.
As I said, this is mostly a vehicle for film and TV parody, and that is when the film is the most fun. The film has two modes…most of the film parodies occur as daydreams where George views himself in iconic roles such as Indiana Jones and Rambo. Then there are the TV clips… ads for TV Movies (Such as Conan the Librarian and Gandhi II), commercials for stores (Spatula City) and then the shows themselves (Wheel a Fish & Rual’s Wild Kingdom). These bits are often both goofy and clever and the jokes are Gatling gun fast.
There is a romantic subplot where George is trying to avoid losing the love of his life, Teri (Victoria Jackson), by proving he is responsible. But, along with the other subplots, this is the least creative aspect of the film.
The film is solidly cast with character actors like Kevin McCarthy (who could chew scenery like few others),Stanley Brock as George’s gambling addicted Uncle Harvey and Billy Barty as Noodles MacIntosh. It also features plenty of folks who made it big in the 90s, such as Michael Richards & Fran Drescher. The talent involved elevates a lot of this, especially considering the slightness of story.
The one uncomfortable area is the racism surrounding the character Kuni, an Asian martial arts instructor. Played by Gedde Watanabe (who has long faced harsh criticism for his role as Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles) the character speaks stilted and awkward english. He pronounces his “R’s” as “L’s” and barks out responses. I admit, there are aspects of the character that work okay…he is needlessly tough on the contestants on his game show “Wheel a Fish”. When someone ends up losing, instead of being comforting, he starts yelling at them deriding them for being so stupid.
For the most part, though the humor is not cruel, simply having fun with wordplay, slapstick and visual gags.
The 25th Anniversary Blu-Ray from the Shout Factory has a great new painted cover by James Hance. The HD picture is, for the large part excellent. There are a couple random moments where the quality dips. A few instances will just never get better because the picture is imitating a bad UHF signal.
The bonus features are a decent collection. While the three minute behind the scenes is not too exciting, there is nearly an hour of a 2014 career retrospective from Comic Con International that is funny and enjoyable. In case you think I am being to rough on Al for the simple plot, he himself states they just needed a story that let them string along the gags. He suggests that if he were to go back to it, he would have put more effort into the actual story. The deleted scenes are from the previous DVD…but it is a creative take. Weird Al hosts explaining that the scenes were deleted because the scenes sucked. He then pops in between sequences to deride the deleted scenes. The disc also contains the UHF music video and various promotional materials such as trailers and still photos. It is, overall a nice and inclusive package. It would have been neat if they could have pulled off a even a short retrospective of the film, both it’s creation and the later cult following. But the overall package is worth it for fans of the film and Weird Al Yankovic.