Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Ten Statements (And One Speculation) About....UHF (1989)

UHF...The film that predicted the new look of MTV!
"Not too many people know this, but the turtle is also nature's suction cup. Watch this."

1) Al Yankovic is not an actor at all--but what he does excel at is in reaction shots. The way he double takes at key jokes manages to sell them much more effectively, and keeps the story from sinking into the mire of the 'parody movie.'

2) This is almost a textbook on how to build a movie around a celebrity who might not be an effective actor (although, to be fair, the 'celebrity movie' is pretty much dead--the last film I can think of off the top of my head that counts as a celebrity movie is the surprisingly sweet Jerry Springer vehicle Ringmaster.). Take your celebrity, surround him or her with reliable actors to prop him up, and find a proper framework to obscure his or her lack of acting ability. Every time it looks like Yankovic or sidekick Dave Bowe might be out of their depth, people like Gedde Wantanabe, Trinidad Silva, Anthony Geary, Kevin McCarthy and others rush in to shore them up.

No, Al...this didn't happen.  But on the other hand, you
single-handed destroyed Orion Pictures.  Congrats!
3) The weirdest thing about this film is how it's a strange microcosm of geek comedy circa 1989--not only do we get Yankovic doing movie parodies and Michael Richards doing a Pilt-down-Manish version of what will be Cosmo Kramer, we get little snapshot performances by The Kipper Kids, Emo Phillips...even Dr. Demento. It's just a strange sort of picture of a time in the development of geek culture that seems...quaint now.

4) I know there were alot of geek guys who dug her, but I Just Don't Get Victoria Jackson. She's a terrible actress who reads all her lines like she's half asleep, she's ungainly and she's of average looks at best.

5) Perhaps the most surreal performance in this film is the short one by Trinidad Silva, hosting an animal show from his apartment and trying to teach poodles to fly. He's definitely a highlight, although I wonder what he would have made of the fact that this would be his last movie (he died shortly after finishing it).

6) Silva and Wantanabe both know something about this kind of low humor--namely, it's necessary for them to skirt really close to the edge of tastelessness at key points (thus one of the moments that is at turns hilarious and winge-worthy revolves around a cabinet of supplies). But never do you get the feeling these moments--or the film as a whole, for that matter--have the mean mean-spirited, 'edginess' that dominates comedies these days.

7) Boy, is that 'cutting edge' computer animation sequence really ugly and primitive...and given that it's in service for what amounts to a music video designed to stretch the film beyond ninety minutes, well.....

8) But on the other hand...let's give credit to the script, by Yankovic and Jay Levey. It is an extremely well-made plot. Every plot twist is set up well in advance, the resolution is telegraphed early enough for it not to look deus ex machina, and everyone gets what they deserve.

"Yeah, I figure after this I'll star in one of the most popular
comedies of the 90's...then I'll kill my career with a racially
brutal tirade...whatcha think, Al?"
9) And it also, more often than not, hides it intention to be more Kentucky Fried Movie than Blazing Saddles. Because it revolves around a television station, the script is able to slide in sketches on a regular basis without drawing attention to the fact that that's what Yankovic and crew are interested in.

10) Looking at this film now, it occurs to me how this film might be looked upon as a curiosity now. Do UHF stations even exist any more in this world of digital cable and transfer of programming to mobile media?

Overall...a film that still holds up for what it is--namely, a dumb comedy with nothing in its head save to make you laugh. It's not going to world, but it might make you forget your troubles for ninety-six minute.

Oh--and about that it just me, or does Yankovic looks more bizarre now that he's sporting contacts? Dude looks like a space alien now.

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