Monday, July 14, 2014

MOVIE REVIEW: UHF (1989)

Television the way it was meant to be seen: in a movie theater!

Few would disagree that Weird Al Yankovic has long acquired his bust in the comedy hall of fame. The man is most noted for his uncanny ability to rewrite popular songs to be about, well, anything! From Gilligan's Island to Star Wars (twice!) and beyond. But when it came to media that wasn't music, Yankovic never seemed to get beyond guest spots on TV shows. In the late Nineties, for example, he had a kids' show (appropriately called The Weird Al Show) which only lasted one season. Shame, really, I thought it was pretty cool.

Long before that, Yankovic made the subject of this article: UHF. When it came out, it generated only a lukewarm turn-out from audiences, more than likely driven to bigger films of the time like Tim Burton's Batman, Ghostbusters II, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade among others; meanwhile, critics savaged the movie. The critical and commercial failure of UHF led to Yankovic refusing to do another movie.

But was it as bad as critics claimed? Let's take a look.



We begin with a cute little spoof of Raiders of the Lost Ark that ends with the revelation that it's a daydream happening in the head of George Newman (Yankovic).  George's constant zoning out frequently got him and his roommate Bob (David Bowe) fired from pretty much everywhere. George runs his mouth too long when Bob expresses his concerns, allowing their boss to overhear George's insults. Back to the unemployment office!

As if George's wild imagination wasn't enough, he tends to lose track of time and forget about spending time with his girlfriend Teri (Victoria Jackson). She's also concerned about his wandering mind, but whenever she expresses these feelings George does stuff like do shout-outs to Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

George goes to a party at his Uncle Harvey's, a gambler who's chummy with a crime boss called Big Louie. In my opinion, Louie makes a better Dr. Claw than Rupert Everett ever did:

"I'll get you next time, Gadget! Next time!"

Harvey's made a killing in poker, even winning the deed to the obscure, nearly-bankrupt station U-62. Despite Harvey's intent to tear it down, his wife decides to put George in charge of the place.

I hope they meet Wolfman Jack!

Upon arriving, they meet a bum (Vance Colvig, Jr.) who begs for change.George gives him a little bit... and gets a dollar in exchange! Ha!

U-62's status is so far down the toilet that it's relegated to showing Mr. Ed reruns and acting as the lab/home of a strange scientist known only as Philo (Anthony Geary).

The next day, George brings Bob to the station where they meet Pamela Finklestein (Fran "The Nanny" Drescher). Pam's problem is that she wants to be a reporter, but has been saddled with a "temporary" job as the station's secretary for two years. We learn this because she expresses her grievances to the deaf ears of George and Bob.

Studying the channel's line-up, George comes to the conclusion that they air too many reruns and should make original, live shows. But before they can turn the station around, Pam tells the boys that the mailman left a package for Channel 8 on their step by accident, so George volunteers to go take it by there.

Ted Baxter really moved up in the world after the Six O'Clock News crew got fired!

We meet the ruthless head of Channel 8, R. J. Fletcher (Kevin McCarthy), as he fires janitor Stanley Spadowski (Michael "Kramer" Richards) for supposedly losing an important document that was left on his desk the night before. With him chased away, Fletcher discovers that the file was in his chair all along. Doesn't even go after him to apologize, just laughs; his laughing is followed up by his three lackeys uncomfortably joining in. 

It would seem the whole building is scared of him, too, because when George shows up with the package and addresses him as "R. J." everything falls into dead silence. Even the ringing telephone. George BARELY delivers the box, no thanks to Fletcher threatening and talking over him.

On his way out, George watches as one of Fletcher's cronies forces Stanley's mop out of his grip. It wasn't even Channel 8's mop, it was Stanley's since he was eight years old. Okay, it's official. Fletcher's utter evil.

Fortunately for Stanley, George gives him a new job right away (wish it were that fast for people in real life).

Meanwhile, Pam does a news report at city hall with a Little Person called Noodles McIntosh (Billy Barty) as her camera man. Needless to say, Fletcher's cronies show up to screw up the report. Naturally, Fletcher's unfazed by the incident when confronted by it.

It's Hawaiian Punch! Honest!

George's attempts to get some original programming going sputter right out of the gate when he interviews the clumsiest shop teacher in the world (played by Emo Phillips) on Town Talk. He and Bob also make a pretty dreadful kiddy show with an audience that has the collective enthusiasm of an Egyptian mummy. George even goes as far as to make a special bulletin to wish Teri a happy birthday and invite her and her parents to eat at a fancy restaurant with him.

Unfortunately, he gets lulled to sleep by the monotony of his work and Beverly Hillbillies reruns... which leads to an awesome spoof of Dire Straits' Money For Nothing music video... and forgets about his date. Teri calls U-62 personally to tell him that they're through. Ouch.

With the station falling apart around his ears financially and depressed about Teri breaking up with him, George hands control of his kiddy show over to Stanley. He and Bob go to a bar to drown their sorrows in booze... and are soon to learn that Stanley's uplifting and offbeat personality made the show do a one-eighty! Then, he delivers one heck of a motivational speech to the audience:

"Sometimes you just hafta take what life gives ya, 'cause life is like a mop and sometimes life gets full of dirt and crud and bugs and hairballs and stuff... you, you, you gotta clean it out. You, you, you gotta put it in here and rinse it off and start all over again and, and sometimes, sometimes life sticks to the floor so bad you know a mop, a mop, it's not good enough, it's not good enough. You, you gotta get down there, like, with a toothbrush, you know, and you gotta, you gotta really scrub 'cause you gotta get it off. You gotta really try to get it off. But if that doesn't work, that doesn't work, you can't give up. You gotta, you gotta stand right up. You, you gotta run to a window and say, "Hey! These floors are dirty as hell, and I'm not gonna take it any more!" 

The retooled kiddy show (Stanley Spadowski's Clubhouse) becomes a big success, being sold-out for months. Ultimately, this leads to new ideas that George came up with: the game show Wheel of Fish, a zanier version of Town Talk (guests include Jason Voorhees and the Devil), Raul's Wild Kingdom, Conan the Librarian, and Secrets of the Universe with Philo.

TRIVIA: The Raul character was supposed to have a bigger role in the movie,
but his actor, Trinidad Silva, was sadly killed by a drunk driver. Had he lived, 
you would have seen a scene where the poodles got back at Raul for hurling
them out the window!

While all this is going on, George struggles to get Teri to talk to him, be it leaving desperate messages on his answering machine or filling her home with balloons and flowers.

Fletcher is still an unlikable fink, who now has an obsession with getting a genuine Rolex watch. He's informed of the rise U-62, but quickly brushes it off. But when that little "fly-by-night" station becomes the No. 1 channel in America, he decides to take matters into his own hands!

But what happened to Uncle Harvey? Well, his luck in gambling went sour and now has to pay Big Louie $75,000 in only two days. In such a bleak predicament, Harvey negotiates with Fletcher to hand U-62 over to him for demolition. Once Harvey's wife learns about the deal, he gives George the task of raising the money -- something the gambler doubts he can pull off.

To tackle the daunting task of raising the $75,000, George starts a telethon: Save Our Station! Each caller who pledges $10 would be given a share of U-62. 7,500 certificates were printed; the goal is to sell all of them within thirty-six hours. Naturally, Fletcher attempts to sabotage the effort by abducting Stanley... who quickly gets on his kidnappers' nerves.



The next day, Fletcher runs into the homeless dude from earlier in the movie, still begging for change. He gives the guy one penny. Might seem like a trivial detail here... but it's not.

Teri goes into Channel 8 and confronts Fletcher, telling him to call off the plans to tear down U-62 since it's so important to the whole city. This leads to Fletcher beginning a big speech about how much he doesn't care about how much his rival means to the town... unaware that Philo is secretly recording him. Earlier, you see, Philo bugged Fletcher's office with a hidden camera.

Oh, payback is building!


Back at the goons' hideout, Stanley's talking finally gets under their skin... and he sees his beloved mop in the corner! This leads to funny, awesome chase through the Channel 8 office. This results in Philo and George discovering Stanley's whereabouts, George darting out into the night to save him, which gives us this slice of Epic Win:


With George snapped out of his fantasy by the point of a gun, things don't look good for our heroes... but they're saved at the last minute by Karate sensei and Wheel of Fish host Kuni (Gedde Watanabe) and his students. SUPPLIES!

With the jubilee of Stanley's return to U-62, he gives a rousing speech about the ills of Channel 8 and the crowd refuses to tolerate Fletcher's misdeeds. No sooner does this happen does the Channel 8 CEO try to cover his butt with an emergency broadcast. It at this moment, Philo interrupts the Fletcher's message with his recording of the Suit's tirade from earlier.

"This community means about as much to me as a festering bowl of dog snot!"

Oho! We need a lifebar on this! Trust me!


Save Our Station hits $73,000 dollars when Teri shows up at U-62 to patch things up with George. Uncle Harvey shows up, too.

Finally, time runs out for U-62 when Fletcher and Big Louie show up -- they only raised $73,240 when midnight rolled around. Things look grim, but remember Chester A. Bum, Sr.? He shows up with $2,000, wanting to buy up the remaining shares. With the necessary money all his, George pays off Big Louie and saves  U-62!


But not only does Fletcher lose U-62, he also forgot to renew the license for Channel 8! Of course, the FCC saw his little speech (thanks to Philo) and, instead of having to pay a fine, his station is history. Pam covers the story.

Better watch out, Fletch! Your health's below 30%!


Not enough to finish him. But I know what can!

Remember that penny he gave Chester A. Bum, Sr.? It was an incredibly rare one that made him stinking rich! With his new-found wealth, our homeless guy was able to get the money required to buy the remaining stocks and...

"IT'S A ROLEX! SEE?"

I haven't the heart to tell him that there won't be a sequel in which he can try
to redeem himself.
Welcome to purgatory, Fletch: a world of rejected applications, job scams, pointless assessment questions, and food stamps. 

Well, it's 1989, so you have a shot at finding a new job. Start with Big Edna's Burger World.


Amid the PWNage of Fletcher, his son gets tripped into a mud puddle by Noodles... a bit of reciprocation for earlier! We also see that Philo is really an alien whose business on Earth is finished and is going back home...


...and nobody saw it but you, the viewer. We also see George give Stanley a trophy for being the World's Greatest Janitor. Finally, we end on a daydream spoofing Gone With the Wind.



THE END


FINAL THOUGHTS

"The problem with UHF is that everything in it is a parody. The only logic for anything that happens is that there's some new thing to make fun of-mostly inanely. It's not much of a movie." -- Michael Wilmington, Los Angeles Times

"The result is a very unfunny movie. I did not record a single laugh during the running time of the film, and although I admittedly saw the movie at a press screening and not on a Saturday matinee at the multiplex in the mall, I wonder how many laughs there will be when the movie does go public." -- Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

"Viewing UHF may be injurious to your sense of humor. Rarely has a comedy tried so hard and failed so often to be funny." -- Gene Siskel, Chicago Tribune

The old saying goes that no statue was ever erected for a critic. I don't know what men like these were smoking, the "everything in it is a parody" complain is laughable; what would Wilmington do on the day the monster Seltzerberg rose out of the briny deep to wreak havoc on comedy? Siskel and Ebert probably didn't get it, but they may have hated North and Godzilla '98 Zilla, yet gave "thumbs up" to Space Jam (so make of that what you will).

The most important thing, above all else, is if the audience enjoyed it. UHF found its audience on home video and TV airings, effectively making it a cult classic. Go on YouTube and you can find all the famous clips from the movie. It's that loved.

Yankovic's humor always appealed to me, as I've always been fascinated with parody. It's a feel-good romp from the 80's/90's Transitional Period (an awesome time for media in my opinion) and my love for this movie grows a tiny bit each time I rewatch it. It's a film I would recommend to anyone. Really lifts up your spirits when they're down.

I'm DLAbaoaqu. Orion... Orion is bankrupt now!

UHF was owned by Orion
Weird Al Yankovic is owned by... um, himself

1 comment:

  1. I really liked this movie and the Weird Al Show. Too bad it got canceled because of all the guidelines for the network.

    ReplyDelete