Release Date: July 21, 1989
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Director: Jay Levey
Writers: ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic (Credited as Al Yankovic and Jay Levey
Starring: ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic, Victoria Jackson, Michael Richards, Kevin McCarthy, David Bowe
WARNING: POSSIBLE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW
‘Weird Al’ Yankovic is a musical treasure. Throughout nearly forty years he’s entertained us with his hilariously creative parodies of pop songs. He is considered an original talent and is respected by his peers. He’s appeared not only on the small screen, but on the big screen. In 1989, ‘Weird Al;’ starred in his own movie titled “UHF!” Since it’s been thirty years since its release, I wanted to take a trip down memory lane and review this underrated and underappreciated comedy.
In “UHF” Al stars as George Newman, a fast food worker who constantly has imaginative dreams about movies with him in as the titular hero. After he and his friend Bob (David Bowe) are fired from their job, he is given the keys to a low budget television station that was won by his uncle Harvey, who won it in a poker game. George introduces himself to the head of the VHF station Channel 8 named RJ Fletcher (Kevin McCarthy) who immediately threatens to call security on him. George and Bob get to work on original programming. The low viewership and lack of funds jeopardize the station being shut down. On top of that George is depressed over missing a birthday dinner with his girlfriend Terri (Victoria Jackson) whom breaks up with him over the phone. During a segment of “Uncle Nutzy’s Clubhouse,” George walks out of the show and asks his janitor, Stanley Spadowski (Michael Richards) to take over. When Bob are George are at the bar, they see Stanley’s slapstick antics which makes the patrons and the kids in the audience laugh. Soon “Stanley Spadowski’s Clubhouse” becomes a hit children’s television show which not only produces high ratings but loads of dollars from sponsors. They eventually topple Channel 8 as the number one channel in town. However, their station becomes in jeopardy once again. After George’s Uncle Harvey loses a bet and owes his bookie $75,000, RJ offers to buy the station effectively putting Channel 62 out of business. George is given two days to match the offer. The race begins.
“UHF” was released during a busy summer in 1989. Due to numerous blockbusters being released, it didn’t get much attention. Reviews were mixed to negative. However, since it’s released more people have given the movie a second chance and like it on the merits. This in turn has made “UHF” a cult classic.
I’m a huge ‘Weird Al’ fan and I admit; I couldn’t get into “UHF” the first time around which was back in the late 90s. I revisited the movie a few years back and it turns out I liked it the second time around. After a few more viewings it is a film full of wackiness, originality and humor only the weird one could provide.
While ‘Weird Al’ may be the star and writer of this film, the supporting cast and writer/director Jay Levey, a longtime friend and collaborator of Al’s deserve as much credit for this entertaining picture. Each actor brings so much emotion and love to their characters. “UHF” has a great supporting cast led by Michael Richards as Stanley. Despite his passion as a janitor, he fills the role of a children’s television character with confidence and ease. He is instantly loved by parents and children with his funny antics and creating a safe playful environment. He had just started his role as Kramer on “Seinfeld” and wouldn’t not surprise me if he incorporated elements of Stanley into his most iconic character. Kevin McCarthy is a great bad guy as RJ Fletcher. As a big shot TV executive, all he cares about is staying on top and squashing the completion. When George becomes a threat to him, he pulls out all kind of dastardly tricks to slip him up. McCarthy is loathsome yet hilarious when some of his plans backfire. Victoria Jackson is the sweet wholeheartedly Terri. She puts up with George through his earlier failings and despite being separated doing a portion of the movie, she still has feelings for him and comes to his rescue.
The jokes throughout the movie are clean and hilarious. Of course ‘Weird Al’ movie wouldn’t be complete without some parodies. There’s parodies are short, but don’t feel like filler. They are appropriately placed throughout the plot. The sequence where Al dreams of being in the Dire Straits music video “Money For Nothing” in the form of “The Beverly Hillbillies” complete with the same computer generated graphics as the original video would become the lead song off the soundtrack as well as music video played on MTV.
“UHF” is a rare gem of a movie. It continues to showcase ‘Weird Al’ as a great talent. It doesn’t need sexual jokes or foul language to be funny. It’s all in the concept, story and performances. It’s a piece of pop culture that will live on with each generation. And that’s something to get you to put on some polka shoes and rock out.
- The Spatula City billboard was purchased by the production and it was placed for the one shot it appears in, for ease of filming it was a billboard on a highway not frequented by many travelers. For this exact reason the billboard was not purchased after the rental period ran out, and the company did not remove the phony advertisement, it is reported that for months after the film finished shooting many travelers turned on the indicated exit and inquired about Spatula City, the ad was removed shortly afterwards when the company began receiving complaints.
- According to ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic, Kevin McCarthy thoroughly enjoyed himself during this film and would often break out in laughter after finishing a take where his character was being especially nasty.
- The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences would not allow use of an exact likeness of the Academy Award statuette (“Oscar”) for filming, so a *similar* statuette was created which has Oscar’s hands covering his crotch.
- According to ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic, his line “Redrum! Redrum!” (an homage to the horror classic The Shining (1980) was not scripted and David Proval’s look of confusion was genuine.
- Michael Richards improvised two scenes: where he tells the kids about his dream of being a bird and the Corn Flakes commercial where he finds a toy man.
- In one scene, George Newman and Bob Speck discuss television lineups. One of the shows mentioned is “Volcano Worshipers Hour”. In high school, ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic started a “Volcano Worshipers” club just to get in the yearbook.
- During a VH-1 “Behind the Music” episode about ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic, Emo Philips shows an actual Screen Actors Guild residual check he earned for this film. It was for 30 cents. He stated proudly the check represented what being in this film did for his career.
- Jennifer Tilly and Ellen DeGeneres both auditioned for the role of Teri Campbell, ultimately played by Victoria Jackson. DeGeneres was the first choice but never happened, for reasons unknown to ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic.
Are You Daydreaming Again?
Grab Life By The Lips
It’s A Friendly Place
Like Working In A Fish Market
This Is A Business
Look At Mr. Frying Pan
If You Were Traveling Through Outer Space
One Of My Favorite Cartoons
Life Is Like A Mop
Do I Still Get To Be Janitor?
George Leaves A Message For Terri
New Friday Night Lineup
Town Talk Commercial
I Own This Place
I Love Anchovies