Where Did You Get that Lovely Spatula? – UHF (1989)

As these things often go, a new piece of content put me in the mood to watch something older that’s related to it. In this case, all the promotion for this year’s “Weird Al” Yankovic parody bio-pic convinced me to seek out the musician’s one and only feature film starring vehicle, the zany 1989 comedy UHF.

Doing so, I was immediately forced to question whether younger viewers today would even know what a UHF television station was. The entire premise of this movie is based on an artifact from a long-gone era. For that matter, in a lot of ways, the film itself has practically become one as well. Lost are the days when a Hollywood studio might invest millions of dollars into the production, distribution, and release of a theatrical feature based around a novelty musical act. Modest budget or not, it’s difficult to believe such a thing existed even in 1989 and was dropped into theaters in direct competition against the likes of Batman and Lethal Weapon 2. Needless to say, it didn’t fare well at that task.

In fact, the biggest blockbuster of that year, the sequel Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, had landed two months prior and was still charting in the box office Top 10 when UHF debuted. The Weird Al movie takes aim directly at it with an opening scene parodying the original Raiders of the Lost Ark. No surprise, Indy got the last laugh and, even eight weeks into his movie’s run, handily outperformed the new comedy.

UHF (1989) - The TV schedule
Year of Release: 1989
Director: Jay Levey
Watched On: Roku Channel
Also Available On:Blu-ray
Pluto TV
Various VOD rental and purchase platforms

Yankovic stars as George Newman, a hapless daydreamer who can’t even manage to hold a job in fast food when he lucks into an unexpected opportunity to manage an obscure local-access UHF station at the end of the broadcast dial. The place is a disaster when he arrives, with a programming schedule dominated by reruns of sitcoms from the 1950s – and not even the good ones. While he has big dreams to turn the station’s fortunes around, early attempts go poorly. Mounting debts signal an imminent shutdown until, in desperation, George asks the dim-witted janitor (future Seinfeld breakout star Michael Richards) to step in as host for a little-noticed children’s show, and his bizarre antics somehow catch the public’s attention.

Before long, the show is an unlikely local hit and Channel 62 starts building an actual audience, which George capitalizes on by filling the schedule with a variety of odd and surreal no-budget programs with titles like Wheel of Fish and Underwater Bingo for Teens. Unfortunately, Channel 62’s success also draws the notice of the cruel owner of a local network affiliate (Kevin McCarthy from Innerspace), who vows to crush the competition and shut down the station.

The plot is a pretty thin framework to stretch a series of comedy skit gags poking fun at various TV shows and famous movies. Among its targets are Rambo, Close Encounters, The Beverly Hillbillies, Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothin” music video, Gandhi, and Gone with the Wind (as well as the aforementioned Indiana Jones). Also featured in supporting roles are Victoria Jackson as George’s girlfriend and Fran Drescher as the station’s nasal-voiced receptionist who wants to be a news reporter.

UHF aspires to be a pastiche spoof in the mold of the Zucker-Abrams-Zucker team (Airplane!, The Naked Gun), but never quite hits those heights. While many of its jokes are clever, they’re rarely gut-punch hilarious, and the movie doesn’t really have enough of them to spread across its 97-minute runtime. Many drag on longer than needed, which must have frustrated audiences conditioned by the Z-A-Z formula of machine-gunning out short, rapid-fire gags as fast as viewers could catch them. A running bit involving Gedde Watanabe (Sixteen Candles) as a broad Asian stereotype also hasn’t aged well.

It’s really no surprise that the movie scored poor reviews and flopped as a theatrical release. However, like Weird Al himself, UHF is amiable and amusing enough to stick with viewers and leave a positive impression. Despite its initial failure, the film was well-suited to the less demanding waters of cable syndication and home video, where it eventually found a cult audience who would remember it fondly.

UHF (1989) - Weird Al and Michael Richards in a Rambo parody

Video Streaming

Shout! Factory may have released UHF on Blu-ray back in 2014, but I never got around to buying it. Fortunately, the movie is free to stream on several ad-supported services, which sufficed for my purposes. Since Roku Channel is hosting the Weird bio-pic that inspired me to watch this in the first place, I figured I might as well go with that one. Frustratingly, the first ad interruption happened less than 15 minutes in, and the next two followed in 10-15 minute intervals after that. They were spaced out a little more reasonably later on.

While the video is in high definition, the full-screen 16:9 presentation makes me question whether it comes from a different source than the Blu-ray, which was apparently letterboxed to 1.85:1. The image is very grainy and noisy, with a routine appearance of speckles, dirt, and other film element damage. It also looks to my eye a little too bright and flat, and colors a bit pushed or oversaturated. I spot-checked the movie on Tubi as well, and it looked about the same there.

The Dolby 2.0 audio has nice separation at times, but is thin and strident overall.

In other words, this is pretty far from home theater show-off material. But it’s free to stream, and by that measure you get what you pay for. Whether the Blu-ray offers enough improvement to be worth a purchase, I can’t say.


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