UHF 25th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Review

     November 27, 2014

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Now here’s a real cinematic oddity.  You can describe UHF in any number of ways: hubristic misfire, beloved cult classic, amiable shaggy dog as harmless as it is corny.  All of them apply, and in fact the stories surrounding the movie are actually more interesting than the movie itself.  But as forgettable as it is, its core sweetness makes it terrific comfort food for the right sort, and while you may not love it, hating it seems like an act of needless cruelty.  Hit the jump for my full UHF Blu-ray review.

The film arose as the brain child of “Weird Al” Yankovic who, having conquered the world of novelty parodies, soon turned his attention to film.  He plays George Newman, a standard-issue dopey dreamer who can’t hold onto a job and struggles to find outlets for his creativity.  His life changes when his uncle inherits an old UHF television station on the edge of town, and agrees to let him manage it, giving rise to a series of bizarre shows like “Wheel of Fish” and “Stanley Spadowski’s Clubhouse.” The unexpected success of the latter ultimately pits the station and its rag-tag misfits against the big corporate stations (led by Kevin McCarthy in full-bore scenery chewing mode).   And no scruffy gang of losers has ever triumphed against those odds… have they?

uhf-blu-rayIt’s hardly groundbreaking stuff, but the cast and crew go about it with game enthusiasm and find an agreeable tone on which to hang their various sketches.  For an actor, Yankovic makes a pretty good parodist, but he’s good natured and guides us through this strange little maze with earnest pluck.  It plays like a live-action cartoon, with George’s daydreams providing a decent fulcrum to ignore the laws of physics and keep even the most far-ranging concept more of less within the movie’s wheelhouse.  Every now and then, something really funny crops up, almost shocking in its novelty and vanishing just as quickly.

Sadly, the rest of the gags miss more often than they hit.  Indeed, many of the jokes don’t even work as humor, merely as bizarre concepts that elicit chuckles on sheer novelty value alone.   UHF often veers into  pure non-sequitur territory – at one point a video parody of Dire Straits “Money for Nothing” shows up out of the blue, complete with crude CG animation – and even at its sharpest, it succeeds in producing only chuckles instead of full-bore belly laughs.

And oddly enough, there’s nothing wrong with that.  The cornball gags are designed to hold up over time, and multiple viewings don’t tarnish the film’s modest charms.  That’s important because younger people may not even realize what “UHF” means.  (It stands for “ultra-high frequency” – any TV channel above 13 in the pre-cable days – and stations on the band were renowned for low-budget fringe programming.) Tough to really love? Sure, but it’s equally tough to condemn.  It finds ways to elicit our sympathies and never tests our patience with conceits that run too long or jokes that no one put any effort into.

uhf-weird-al-yankovicThat makes it ideal as comforting background noise while you’re working on other things, or as a tonic for a tough day that won’t make you think too hard.  Hardly the makings of cinematic immortality, but then again, who cares? Movies like this have a place in the sun too: honorable in their intent and effort, if not always their success.  And amid such scoffing, it’s worth noting that Yankovic himself remains more relevant than ever, with his latest album topping the charts and his own packed panel at Comic Con taking place just this year.  You don’t stay in the game that long without something meaningful to offer, and whatever it is, UHF carries it deep within its soul.  Don’t ask it for the moon, and its silliness may just surprise you.

The Blu-ray package is decent, with a good transfer enhancing a predictably modest series of special features.  It touches on the film’s interesting box office history, though I would have liked to have seen something more substantive.  (Test audiences went nuts for it and the distributer – unaware that said audiences may have held a huge number of Weird Al fans – opened it opposite Tim Burton’s Batman … which crushed it like a tiny little bug.) The remaining featurettes including Yankovic’s hour-long panel at the 2014 San Diego Comic-Con, audio commentary with Yankovic and director Jay Levey, deleted scenes, trailers, production stills, a music video from Yankovic, and a behind-the-scenes mockumentary look at “Wheel of Fish.”

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