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UHF


Where the hell has “Weird Al” Yankovic been? Besides an offhand reference in last year’s “Ghost World”, I haven’t heard of him since he released the amusingly titled album “Running with Scissors” back in 1999. I always had a special fondness for Yankovic’ brand of silliness, whether it be on record, on stage, in his always inspired music videos or on his sadly short-lived subversive Saturday morning TV show “The Weird Al Show”. And then there is “UHF”, his 1989 cult comedy, which he is now re-releasing on DVD. This is no bare-bones affair: “Weird Al” has given us a surprisingly complete walk-through the ins and outs of his first and last starring vehicle, from a behind the scenes featurette shot in ’89 to production stills and promotional materials.

Even the menus are fun, with Al goofing off in the background. Also featured is the hysterical music video to the “UHF” theme song in which Yankovic spoofs Prince, Billy Idol, George Michael, Peter Gabriel in “Sledgehammer” and others, and 19 minutes of deleted scenes self-mockingly presented by Al. “Look at all the junk that actually wound up IN the movie… Well, this stuff is even WORSE than that!” The pièce de résistance, though, is the audio commentary with Yankovic, director Jay Levey and Michael Richards. Derision is still king, as Al floods us with “useless trivia” about supporting actors and locations and sarcasm: “This movie is just ripe with symbolic imagery… Fellini, eat your heart out!”

How about the actual movie? Well, it has aged a bit, but so has every movie from the ’80s and, then again, “UHF” still packs the laughs. It might be a cheapie, badly directed mess of disconnected skits, but that was sorta kinda the idea, as Al explains on the commentary: “We were trying to think of a vehicle for me that would involve parodies and making fun of TV and commercials and still have some kind of storyline, and we thought the idea of me running a low budget TV station was fraught with possibilities!”

Indeed, how else could you fit such delicious bits of insanity as the commercials for “Spatula City” and the “Plots R Us Funeral Home” or quirky spin-offs like “Conan the Librarian” and “Gandhi II” (“No more Mr. Passive-Resistance guy!”)? Or how about such memorably demented shows as “Wheel of Fish”, “Raul’s Wild Kingdom” or Al’s on Geraldo-inspired “Town Talk”? Then there are the hilarious fantasy sequences that book-end the film which have “Weird Al” adopting the personas of Indiana Jones and Rambo!

What little plot there is has Yankovic playing George Newman, a daydreamer who can’t hold on to a job but somehow ends up as the manager of a nearly bankrupt local UHF station. He gets his big break when he hires out of kindness a mildly retarded janitor (played with spastic body language and contagious enthusiasm by a pre-Cosmo Kramer Michael Richards) who somehow becomes a sensation on the air, with “Stanley Spadowski’s Clubhouse” hitting #1 in the ratings! This is much to the dismay of R.J. Fletcher (Kevin McCarthy), president of the local network affiliate, who vows to do anything to destroy these Channel 62 fools…

Pretty “cookie-cutter plot” there (Al’s own words!), but it’s actually involving enough, and the inevitable final triumph by the good guys makes you want to stand up and cheer! On that note, I’ll leave you with a ridiculously inspirational speech made in the film by Stanley:

“Life is like a mop. Sometimes life gets full of dirt and crud and hairballs and things and you gotta clean it out. You gotta stick it in here and rinse it off and start all over again. And sometimes life sticks to the floor so much that a mop, a mop, it’s not good enough. You gotta get down there with like a toothbrush, you know, and you gotta really scrub ’cause you gotta get it off! But if that doesn’t work, you can’t give up! You gotta stand right up! You gotta run to a window and say, “These floors are dirty as hell, and I’m not gonna take it any more!”

“UHF” is being released by MGM DVD, in Full Frame or Widescreen format, with English, French or Spanish audio tracks. Check it out!