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Movie Reviews : The Parody Runs Amok in Yankovic's 'UHF'

July 21, 1989|MICHAEL WILMINGTON

In "UHF" (citywide), writer-star "Weird Al" Yankovic tries to jam dozens of movie and TV parodies into the kind of dopes-on-the-job plot that was already a self-parody in the days of the first "Police Academy." The parodies are sometimes amusing, in a talk-back-to-the-TV-screen sort of way, but the movie they're stuck in is beyond sendups.

It's another daffy, goofy, sex-crazed-guys story: "The daffy, goofy, sex-crazed guys take over a TV station." But here there isn't much sex; perhaps Yankovic's target audience is too young. These guys aren't lecherous; they're just daffy and goofy.

They race around and bang themselves on the noggin with mops and throw mustard on bikers and poodles out the window. They play with their mashed potatoes and shoot staples at each other and stick children into sandboxes full of wet oatmeal. The love interest, "Saturday Night Live's" Victoria Jackson, might as well be in another picture. Maybe she is; halfway through this one, Yankovic breaks a date with her and she disappears until the picture's climax.

Yankovic's character, stodgily named George Newman instead of Odd Arnie or Bizarre Bob, is a congenital foul-up, constantly lost in fantasies of Spielberg movies. He takes over a failing UHF station, Channel 62, after his uncle wins it at a poker game. But in true daffy, goofy, sex-crazed guys fashion, George quickly piles up the heftiest ratings in town, despite programming shows like "Bowling for Burgers," "The Volcano Worshiper's Hour" and "Wheel of Fish," a game show whose wheel-spinner is named Vanna Whitefish.

Channel 62's superstar is the janitor, Stanley Spadowski (Michael Richards), a Jerry Lewis-style super-goon. Their nemesis is Kevin McCarthy, chewing passions to tatters as a network-affiliate czar caught in a perpetual grimace. Soon poor Stanley has been kidnaped and McCarthy is trying to foreclose the mortgage--or buy the station, or steal the deed--and a telethon is under way to raise all the money for Uncle Harvey's gambling debts.

As an actor, Yankovic alternates between screaming and staring confusedly into space. But Billy Barty, Trinidad Silva and Fran Drescher are fitfully funny. And, as Stanley, Michael Richards has one of those scarily intense mad-clown looks; he looks as if he could pick up quarters with his eyebrows.

In real life, Yankovic is a famous record parodist, sort of the Homer and Jethro of rock 'n' roll--or perhaps the Allan Sherman of MTV. (The film's director, Jay Levey, is his manager and video director.) And he has some funny ideas. The movie's highlight is a version of "The Ballad of Jed Clampett" sung to the tune of Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing." And there's a "Rambo" parody with Yankovic mowing down half the Eastern Hemisphere and the Eiffel Tower.

Yet there's something fatally wrong here. Why would someone who keeps losing himself in dream-parodies of Spielberg and Stallone movies come up with shows like "Druids on Parade" or "Name That Stain"?

The problem with "UHF" (MPAA-rated PG-13) 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. But, hey, give these daffy, goofy guys a break. Where would the film industry be without them?

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