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Non-Review Review: UHF

I like “Weird” Al Yankovic. I realise that there are many people out there who don’t find his pop song mash-ups like Another One Rides The Bus, Amish Paradise, Like Surgeon or White and Nerdy to be especially funny – and there are probably as many who find these riffs on popular tracks as insanely irritating. U.H.F. (perhaps better known as “the Weird Al Yankovic movie”) isn’t likely to change anybody’s opinion of the songwriter one way or the other. Which is to say that, while I could see quite a few flaws in it, it was smart and earnest enough that I ended up quite enjoyed it.

Gunning for the classics...

The plot of the movie sees a young man with responsibility issues and an over active imagination given the responsibility of running a local television station that his uncle won at a poker game. However, plot isn’t really important. The movie does have a bunch of things that happen to the characters, and follows the expected cycle of any comedy – protagonist struggles, finds a happy balance, has balance upset by outside factor and must rally everything to save the day, with the obligatory romantic subplot thrown in for good measure – but it’s strictly formula. Much like its lead character, the movie is much more interesting when it allows its imagination to run a bit wild.

Using the television station as a vehicle, the movie features a whole host of inserts which seem to skirt the line between pop culture parodies and clever takes on established ideas. For example, the film features our hero playing out his own witty takes on Rambo and Raiders of the Lost Ark in his imagination, while giving us trailers for shows he’s commissioned like Conan: The Librarian and Gandhi II. Both of which I would love to see get commissioned for network television.

Being evil through networking...

Some of this is delightfully cheeky (with his somewhat cynical take on children’s television – “you get to drink from the firehose!” – standing out), but there are moments when the movie falls into the trap of simply treating a reference as inherently funny in its own context. There’s no reason for George to craft the mountain from Close Encounters of the Third Kind out of mashed potatoes, except in homage to the scenes from the original, but Al doesn’t necessarily put his own spin on it. There are a few moments like that, where it seems the movie is referencing something simply to reference it (rather than to make a witty observation).

In particular, the film’s seemingly obligatory musical number (a recounting of the plot of Beverly Hillbillies to the Dire Straits’ Money For Nuthin’), can’t help but fall a bit flat – seemingly included only because people would expect a Weird Al movie to feature at least one of his trademark pastiches. I’m sure there must have been better options for the film, as it just seems a particularly random interlude – so random that there’s really none of the madcap joy that accompanies most of the other inserts.

Not exactly a major studio picture...

Still, these are minor complaints. Quite a lot of the movie is funny on its own terms, with a script that – even as it’s taking the “little guys vs. big business” aspects of the plot through the motions – is smart enough to make a few wonderful stingers. In particular, I quite liked Kevin McCarthy as the villain of the piece, who seemed to need to feast on the scenery in order to sustain himself. Again, those looking for anything particularly fresh or new won’t be blown away, but there’s a sense of fun which carries the movie.

The best way to describe how the movie feels is to consider it as perhaps the most professional home movie ever made. It literally seems like Weird Al and his crew were having great fun with a budget – and pretty much throwing in anything that came to mind. It isn’t the most structured fun (the jokes aren’t necessarily evenly spaced, nor are the most hilarious sequences), but there are moments when the madness really gels. In particular anything with Michael Richards or the Wheel of Fish segment. It’s just “stoopid!” fun.

I enjoy his flights of fancy...

I can’t help but admire the movie’s earnest energy. There’s something quite affectionate in the simple philosophy espoused by George. Asked to justify his flights of fancy, George offers an explanation that perhaps comes from Weird Al himself, “You gotta grab life by the lips and yank as hard as you can.” Laughter and amusement and frantic energy are the kinds of things that we always need more of, and I admire the honest simplicity of the sentiment.

While certain references are dated today (in particularly the Spatula City commercial, which is still hilarious, even though it features a reference to a commercial everyone else has forgotten), there seems to be a sense of balance. Most of Al’s targets are iconic enough that they are still instantly recognisable, and – in a really strange sense of symmetry – Stanley’s touching motivational observation that “life’s like a mop” reminds me of a similar comparison made by another special individual.

U.H.F. isn’t a classic comedy, but it’s one made with enough charm and wit that it’s an amusing way to spend an hour and a half.

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