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UHF 4K Review – Al Ways and Forever

Generation X loves Weird Al Yankovic. When it comes to nerdy white guys so unabashedly dorky that they’re kinda cool, history’s most successful song parodist may be second only to Mister Rogers, and barring the occasional dark themes in some of his numbers, he’s just as family-friendly. So it may come as a shock to those too young to remember that when he finally got the chance to make a movie, and the movie was 100 percent pure Al, it was a box-office disaster.

That wasn’t entirely his fault, as Orion opened it during the summer of 1989, opposite Batman, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Ghostbusters II and Lethal Weapon 2. Two weeks in theaters, and it was gone. Al’s career also briefly seemed to be, until he spoofed Nirvana at just the right cultural moment.

Weird Science

Time has been kind to UHF, however, even if nobody understands the title any more. (Overseas, where the UHF dial on a TV was not a thing, Al suggested retitling it “The Vidiot”; instead, it became “The Vidiot From UHF,” which made even less sense.) Perhaps spurred on by Yankovic playing clips at all his concerts, it has been released in every major home video format from VHS onward, and this week brings it to 4K UHD. Enthusiastic fans of Weird Al will undoubtedly snap it up, but is it really worth your while if you already own it in other formats? Keep reading.

The movie’s plot is but a loose formula, a variation of the underdog achieving surprising success, mainly as a metaphorical clothes-horse on which Al can hang various parodies of TV shows, commercials, and movies. Giving things additional energy, though, is the first lead performance by a pre-Seinfeld Michael Richards, as a twitchy, high-energy janitor named Stanley who becomes an unlikely kid-show host. All the physical shtick and spontaneous weirdness that would make him a major TV star in the ’90s is on display here — Gen Z may dismiss Seinfeld altogether these days due to its septuagenarian star sounding his age, but Kramer used to be a big deal, and in UHF, Richards feels like a comic dynamo being discovered before your eyes.

Al ‘n the Family

Yankovic, who co-wrote the movie with manager Jay Levey (who directed), had an acting coach, but he hardly needed one — as the star of so many music videos that also depend on him singing funny lines with perfect timing, he was arguably more qualified to act than many other musicians who have. His screen presence is as agreeable as he is onstage, mixing goofy enthusiasm with screaming self-loathing. It’s a persona that wouldn’t be too hard to fit into any number of scenarios, which Orion was certainly hoping for. He may be playing George Newman, fast-food cook turned TV station manager, but he’s still Weird Al by any other name.

In contrast to both, soap star Anthony Geary does extremely deadpan as a mad scientist type, commercial star David Bowe (NOT Bowie!) makes a good straight man as George’s best friend, while a young Fran Drescher shows early comedic chops as an aspiring newswoman with a little-person cameraman, played by veteran Billy Barty. SNL’s Victoria Jackson, a longtime friend of Yankovic, successfully delivers a rare straight-woman performance as the object of his desire. It’s an ensemble of different types that works very well — each character could have come from an altogether different movie, but their interactions still feel believable.

What, We Worry?

Like Mad Magazine, UHF will probably make more kids laugh out loud than adults, but gentle chuckles are not the worst thing in the world. Yankovic is the kind of comedian who usually gets his targets’ permission to mock them, so it’s not like he draws blood with his humor, though Kevin McCarthy’s psychotic network affiliate boss villain still feels timely. Only a few gags haven’t aged well: Leavey in brownface as Gandhi, some violence to puppies, and a “surprise/supplies” joke based on a stereotypical Japanese accent may not make today’s teens laugh, but even at a remove, they at least don’t feel actively malicious. Most of the references remain comprehensible, as Yankovic’s primary targets include hugely popular movies and songs from the ’80s that have stuck around, and TV tropes that endure.

All the extras on this set are ported over from the 2014 Blu-ray and the 2002 DVD, though the sole one from 2014 is a Comic-Con panel with Jonah Ray in conversation with Al, who was doing a lot with Nerdist at the time (be glad it isn’t Chris Hardwick hosting!). Comic-Con panels aren’t cinematic; the thrill comes from being in the room with the talent and hearing news first. That said, the audience Q&A part is worth watching, and Ray is one of the better moderators of such things.

Before They Were…

Yankovic and Leavey’s commentary track from 2002 is informative and funny, with Al seemingly remembering every single street address of every location they shot at in Tulsa (It was mostly in a mall, attached to a hotel that had lots of new, empty space). It also includes drop-ins from Michael Richards, Emo Phillips, and Victoria Jackson. Keep in mind that this was recorded years before Jackson went full QAnon, and Richards lost his mind with a racist rant that sunk his career. If those things still bother you enough not to buy the set, so be it; just don’t blame Al for being super-friendly and complimentary to them long before they were canceled.

Yankovic stays in character as a spoiled celebrity for a behind-the-scenes featurette focused mainly on the “Wheel of Fish” sketch and acts his most self-deprecating while hosting a series of deleted scene clips duped from his home VHS tape. Most of them, he rightly notes, were correctly excised, but he felt that DVDs are obligated to show some. The still galleries give more of an indication of some deleted gags, as they include many candid and casual shots as well as the official screen shots. Trailers and posters are also here, and the music video from the movie’s theme song, which gives Weird Al the chance to cosplay as several music stars he didn’t get specific parody permission from over the years, including Guns N’ Roses, Prince, and ZZ Top.

The Verdict:

So is it worth it for the 4K disc, which also includes the commentary track? The difference is noticeable, with bright reds less eye-hurty and the blacks less intense and more modulated. The occasional out-of-focus shots from the Blu-ray are still that way, but the film grain is preserved, and the resolution is good enough to play spot-the-mole, as Yankovic had some dermatology done during the course of shooting. It’s not so much better than the Blu-ray that anyone but a diehard absolutely needs it as well, but if you don’t own a copy yet, this is the one to get.

UHF is pretty much exactly what one should expect a Weird Al movie to be. It’s funny, charming, mildly weird, and while it may wear out its welcome for some after a couple of viewings, transcends being a mere parody just enough to stay interesting. Fans who are all-in on his music will definitely want it to watch on repeat forever, while those who listen to his albums a time or two and go, “Eh, decent novelty act,” ought to enjoy it at least once. The commentary alone makes the extras worthwhile unless you already own it in another format.

Grade: 7/10

Per ComingSoon’s review policy, 7/10 equates to “Good.” A successful piece of entertainment that is worth checking out, but it may not appeal to everyone.

UHF on 4K is now available wherever such things are sold.

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