Does the phrase Conan The Librarian make you laugh? How about the thought of an advert for Spatula World, the place where all your spatula needs will be met? Yes? Well, in that case, the 1989 vehicle for the comedic talents of 'Weird' Al Yankovic might just be for you...
In UHF, 'Weird' Al Yankovic, who co-wrote the script, stars as George Newman, a burger cook in a fast food restaurant who inherits the failing UHF (rather than networked) station, Channel 62, from his uncle Harvey, who actually won it in a poker game. With viewing figures that barely register in the ratings, Newman is desperately producing television shows that he hopes will bring a little more success but when he accidentally lets Stanley Spadowski (Michael Richards) into a studio, the viewing figures rise sharply. The more successful Channel 62 becomes, the more it raises the ire of competing station boss RJ Fletcher, played by Kevin McCarthy, who once employed Spadowski as a janitor In a bid to close this upstart down, Fletcher finds a way to buy out his rival but will he succeed or will Newman's bizarre programming and movie parodies save the station?
Born in 1959 in California, Alfred Matthew Yankovic began his career in music by playing accordion having been influenced by polka music. When a local comedy star played one of Yankovic's accordion-driven pop songs on his station, he not only became a regular contributor to the show but began to become a comedy star in his own right. Yankovic's trick was to parody popular songs, beginning with re-recording The Knack's My Sharona as My Bologna. It so happened that The Knack were so fond of Yankovic's version that they persuaded their record company to release his song as a single. From that point on, Yankovic recorded such songs as Another One Rides The Bus, Like A Surgeon and, most famous of all, Eat It. Despite it appearing as though Yankovic jokes would eventually wear thin, he has continually adapted his jokes to new musical genres including rock, metal, indie and gangsta rap with his most recent successes being Smells Like Nirvana and Amish Paradise, based on Smells Like Teen Spirit and Gangsta Paradise, respectively. Unbelievably, he is still releasing such records.
In 1989, 'Weird' Al Yankovic was given the opportunity by Orion Pictures to make a film and he unsurprisingly stuck to what he knew best - parodies of popular movies based around the most threadbare of plots. Indeed, UHF often appears to be no more than series of skits propped up by a story that can be quickly forgeten about in the hope of seeing more spoofs, not only including the aforementioned Conan the Librarian but also Gandhi II, Wheel of Fish and Bestiality Today. Indeed, the opening of the film isn't at all bad with a parody of Raiders Of The Lost Ark and, towards the end, there is a very funny a skit on Rambo as Newman imagines himself as the monosyllabic soldier rescuing Spadowski from Fletcher's offices but elsewhere, UHF drags every time Yankovic appears onscreen bemoaning his inability to run Channel 62.
The acting in the movie isn't bad at all with the ever-reliable Kevin McCarthy and Michael Richards (Kramer in Seinfeld) stealing the show with ludicrously over-the-top acting but which matches the material at hand. Yankovic is, however, best suited to three- or four-minute pop videos as his presence at the centre of the story is weak, ineffectual and so spineless that you occasionally wish that McCarthy would indeed take over Channel 62 and shut it down.
The film has been anamorphically transferred in 1.85:1 and if it only looks fine, it is no fault of MGM's work in producing the DVD. Instead, UHF was cheaply made as a vehicle for the talents of 'Weird' Al Yankovic and the lack of budget shows in the picture quality. Truth be told, you get better production values on the average episode of Eastenders than here, with poor lighting, inexpensive sets and an in-your-face filming style that tells of being unable to afford much action in the background.
The film has been presented here with a 2.0 Stereo soundtrack, which is fine given the age of the film and is perfectly acceptable. Otherwise, the soundtrack is clean but absent of any real punch.
The only bonus feature is the following:
Theatrical Trailer (1m25s, 1.85:1 Anamorphic, 2.0 Mono): This is no more than a brief run through highlights of both the main plot and the parodies included within it with a scatter gun approach that hits as much as it misses.
Actually, it's hardly surprising that UHF failed - Conan The Librarian is a funnier title than anything in the main feature - and it remains 'Weird' Al Yankovic's first and last venture into movie-making. Whilst not entirely unsuccessful, only the movie parodies really work and had their star forgot about a plot and concentrated instead on spoofs to produce a film more similar to Kentucky Fried Movie or Amazon Women On The Moon, then UHF may have been better received.
UHF is not particularly recommended but it does make one recall a time when a bespectacled, accordion-playing comedian could be a big star by re-recording Beat It as a song about Michael Jackson's eating habits. Whether that is a good or a bad thing is really up to you to decide.