Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Brown picked “UHF.”
The Movie: “UHF”
Starring: “Weird Al” Yankovic, VIctoria Jackson, Kevin McCarthy
Director: Jay Levey
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) An unemployed visionary becomes the manager of a local public station. The station becomes a success, with all sorts of hilarious sight gags and wacky humor.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 64 percent
Brown: I’m still traumatized from our last review. Why did “Mac and Me” have nude aliens? Why did they ever have an ending where a handicapped child was GUNNED DOWN?! When did Paul Rudd come across that movie.
*Deep breath* We need a feel-good movie.
Well, a movie we’ll enjoy. About a weird man and his even weirder (and possibly racist) janitor.
So, it felt right to go with “UHF,” the “Weird Al” Yankovic vehicle. For a man whose made his career through parody and food jokes, it was refreshing to see him on the big screen… making parodies and food jokes.
This should have been a light-hearted romp to give us Joes a break. And it’s certainly a movie I remembered fondly in my teens when I, like a lot of warm-blooded, freedom-loving Americans had their “Weird Al” phase.
Little did I realize that I was watching a biographical picture on Sinclair Broadcasting. We’ll get into it.
While I build a sculpture that means something out of mashed potatoes, give me your initial take, Froemming.
Froemming: As someone born in the 1980s and came of age in the 1990s, “Weird Al” pretty much ruled my world. His parody songs were often just as, if not more, popular as the originals, his original songs were amazingly psychotic at times and he gave voice to nerds like me who often thought those original pop songs he mocked were really (REDACTED) stupid.
I had only seen this once prior to the JOE-DOWN. I think I was 13 or 14, and I remember loving it for how (REDACTED) weird it was. Then I grew up and out of my “Weird Al” phase — for a while. I somehow found myself going back to his catalog and now, because of you, his movie. Has it aged badly in the eyes of 38-year-old me?
Some has. But for the most part, it is as bonkers as the first time I saw it.
Brown, I am going to make a hotdog out of a Twinkie and put some spray can cheese on it and dip it in some milk, why don’t you kick this off?
Brown: One day I will make a Twinkie weiner sandwich and review THAT for the JOE-DOWN.
Like we would expect from anything from “Weird Al,” we open the movie with a parody. In this case, it’s “Indiana Jones.” And like you’d expect, there’s plenty of fun, albeit stupid, sight gags. My personal favorites were Al whipping a man’s arm off and a man running out of the cave and getting hit by a train from out of nowhere.
Look, sometimes you just need a stupid laugh. This movie is chock-full of those.
Then we’re brought to cruel reality where George Newman (Yankovic) is flipping burgers and dreaming of a better life.
And look, it was a joy to see Al in his classic look: Poofy, curly hair, wire glasses and caterpillar mustache. He’s aged gracefully without the glasses and facial hair, but sometimes you just want to see the classics. Even if the classic look is a little pedo…
Froemming: “Weird Al” is the opposite of Kurtwood Smith in that he will never grow old.
Yeah, George and his buddy Bob are working a dead-end job at Big Edna’s Burger World, where they get fired because George crap talks and burns the French fries. I know it is hilarious, but I once burned a pot of baked beans, so these things can happen, Al!
Brown: I’d like to believe that George burned the fries on purpose because they weren’t FREEDOM FRIES!
Brown: I guess I’m the more patriotic of the Joes.
Froemming: After two “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” movies, you’re the 9/11 of the Joes.
Anyway, George goes to some sort of party being hosted by his uncle and aunt, where we find out his uncle Harvey makes some of his fortunes gambling. Except he won a broke-ass UHF station that night. And because his goofball nephew needs a job, why not throw the station his way to manage?
You know, writing this premise out, it is a really (REDACTED) stupid thing of Harvey to do. Like, jaw-droppingly stupid….
Brown: It is amazing that we’ve gone years on the JOE-DOWN and have never made that clip a regular thing.
Also, following “Weird Al” throughout my life and remembering the “Al TV” specials on MTV, once I heard there was an Uncle Harvey, I immediately went to Harvey the Wonder Hamster.
Froemming: God, “Al TV” was the best thing MTV ever did. A close second is “Beavis and Butt-head.” I would stay up late watching it re-aired until like 3 in the morning.
Brown: We also see that George is in a rocky relationship with his girlfriend Teri (Jackson) because she wants him to have a direction in life.
Froemming: Well, he could be posting nutty pro-Trump videos for a living?
Brown: I got dumped once because (among other reasons) I didn’t seem to have a direction. I thought that was BS because I was 18. George looks 35 or so, so that makes more sense. Al was actually 29 when this movie came out, so yeah… that’s a legit concern for Teri. Especially when he’s living off of Twinkie weiner sandwiches and has a new job every week.
But now he’ll be the manager of U62, a little UHF TV station out in the sticks that apparently only shows reruns of “The Beverly Hillbillies.”
So, he manages Nick At Night?
Froemming: Well, I am sure at the time old sitcoms like that were cheap for stations to run? I dunno, but I do know I love what follows is a great parody of Dire Straits’ “Money For Nothing,” a song I hate with the rage of a million fiery suns.
Brown: It still blows me away that Dire Straits guitarist Mark Knopfler would only let Al parody the song if Knopfler played the guitar in the song. Like, is that being part of the joke or is he that much of an egomaniac about that riff that he MUST be the one to play it?
Froemming: Given Knopfler’s hatred of his own band, I am guessing it was both ego AND spite?
Also, after watching this movie I realized Seth MacFarlane owes Al residuals for making all his cartoons basically a “UHF” ripoff with all the sight gags and random cutaways to parodies.
Brown: With the residuals MacFarlane would theoretically pay Al, “The Simpsons,” “South Park” and its other various sources, MacFarlane would be making “Family Guy” and “American Dad” just to break even.
So, back to U62, the station already employs a bizarre cast of characters. There’s Philo, a mad scientist who lives at the station and would surely get the place shut down if anyone from the city would see this since it’s not zoned for residential purposes. Then there’s Pamela (played by Fran Drescher), who is working as a secretary but really wants to be the lead anchor of a TV news program.
Then we meet U62’s rival at Channel 8: RJ Fletcher. And man, I think Kevin McCarthy needs to share an award with Kurt Fuller in “No Holds Barred” for going all-out on stupid movies about TV stations. I’d argue that McCarthy is the MVP of this movie. Sorry Al. Love ya, but you’re not a good actor.
Froemming: Oh yeah, RJ is full-on monster in this. And when George stops by to meet his alleged competition, the man threatens to have him arrested for spying and trespassing, and frankly, I would be startled too if a man with poodle hair and an even creepier mustache than John Waters randomly showed up at my place of business.
But before this, we meet Stanley Spadowski, played by Michael Richards, who is — well, um, he is a little out there? A little…
Well, Stanley gets canned and RJ’s kids, who are like the Trump boys but somehow more stupid, and take his mop. A mop he was given on his 8th birthday and means the world to him. Stanley is a likeable character who hopefully one day will not try his hand at stand-up comedy (VERY NSFW).
Well, George takes pity on this poor son of a bitch who has just lost everything, so he hires him to be the janitor at UHF, because “Weird Al” has a heart of gold.
Brown: Stanley Spadowski: better janitor or better neighbor?
Finding out U62 only has enough assets to stay open until the end of the week according to Bob, George tries his hand at all sorts of original contest. Who could ever forget “Wheel of Fish,” “Philo’s Secrets of the Universe” or “Raul’s Wild Kingdom?” Seriously, who could forget “Raul’s Wild Kingdom?!” DUDE THREW POODLES OUT OF A THIRD-STORY WINDOW! Again, how hard would it really be to shut down this station when there’s animal endangerment in one of their primetime shows? Like, are you even trying, Mr. Fletcher?
Froemming: This was Ronald Reagan’s America, Brown. There was no time for #snowflakes like you.
Brown: If I were Spatula World, I’d pull my advertising dollars. #CancelRaulsWildKingdom
Question: what was your favorite TV show on the U62 lineup? I’d lean towards “Conan the Librarian” just to see a teenager cut in half with a broadsword.
Froemming: “Conan The Librarian” is my pick, with “Wheel of Fish” a close second just because of how ridiculous the premise is to that show.
There is also “Town Talk,” a show I only bring up because I want to state for the record I will never “get” Emo Phillips, but I enjoy this bit a lot.
Brown: I support “Town Talk” because Nazis and Klansmen get assaulted on the show. Later, when Teri convinces George to support the Tea Party and turns U62 into Sinclair Broadcasting, they’ll support agendas for said Nazis and Klansman. At least that’s my head canon.
The show that pulls U62 out of the cellar comes as a surprise. After George’s show, “Uncle Nutzy’s Clubhouse” tanks because he’s heartbroken over Teri dumping him, George throws Stanley on the air. I assume George was about to Brooks himself.
Turns out, Stanley’s insanity resonates with children and adults alike and becomes an instant hit. And how could it not be, because who wouldn’t want to take a drink from THE FIRE HOSE after they find a marble in the oatmeal.
That scene will always make me chuckle, mostly due to Richards’ line delivery. Like McCarthy, Michael Richards gives this performance 110 percent and I love it.
U62 has become the hottest network in town and Channel 8… does not like that. They’re not trying to perpetrate rapes and murders like Kurt Fuller in “No Holds Barred” but RJ Fletcher is still plenty evil.
Froemming: Well, in Reagan’s America, if you can’t own two TV stations in the same market, well just buy the competition and close its doors! Capitalism, I am sure it is not supposed to work like that.
And that is RJ’s plan, and he calls Uncle Harvey, who finds himself in debt to Dr. Claw from “Inspector Gadget” by about $75,000 on poor horse bets. This is excellent timing for RJ, since he is flush with that kind of cash from whatever the hell he airs on his station.
Once George catches wind of this, after RJ shows up at his station with a measuring ruler that indicates he is the new sheriff in town of UHF, he calls his uncle to see if he can match that to save this station.
A station that has a hit show starring an insane person blasting kids with fire hoses, a gameshow about fish, and of course a talk show that features Emo Phillips AND white nationalists.
How again is this station topping the ratings in this market? Does everyone in this town eat paint chips?
Brown: Especially when this was 1989 and cable was a thing people were really getting behind. But, I will say that U62 could work. Why? Hell, people watch a yule log on Christmas. Why wouldn’t they watch Fran Drescher with a little person cameraman?
Now, the station decides to run a telethon to raise the $75,000 but I posit they have the money. Why do I think that? Well, one of the shows they’re running is “Celebrity Mud Wrestling,” and Gorbachev is the featured celebrity. I feel like that would cost more than $75,000 to get him to fly to the U.S. and compete in this.
Froemming: Nah, the Soviet Union was about to crumble. I am sure it was fairly cheap to get him. A bottle of vodka and maybe a sandwich for that appearance?
Brown: Also, this movie has blackface… err, brownface? One of the shows U62 is showing is “Gandhi II,” which is played by Jay Levey, who is decidedly NOT Indian.
Seriously, how could it be THAT hard to shut down this station, RJ?
Froemming: It was the 80s, this was a time when something like, I dunno, “Soul Man” made it to the theaters. I am not saying it was right, I am just saying that was the times.
Brown: The ‘80s was a trash time for trash people. And yes, I include myself for being born in that decade.
Froemming: Now the kicker for the marathon is the money donated is exchanged for stock in U62, meaning if you donate, you become a part owner of this nutty little station. It is not a bad idea at all, considering people here seem to love their TV programs to make about as much sense as watching “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” on LSD.
Brown: Ehh, I figure the stocks were symbolic and make people think they’re a part of something, like how rubes in Wisconsin buy “stocks” in the Green Bay Packers so billionaires can use public money instead of their own.
Froemming: Nah, the goal is to make U62 publicly owned. It is in the Wikipedia plot summary!
Brown: The telethon hits a snag, though, when RJ has hired goons kidnap Stanley and remove U62’s cash cow from the equation.
While hidden away in the bowels of Channel 8, Stanley finds his old mop and goes all Fleetwood Mac by breaking his chains and going after his beloved cleaning device.
Then there’s one point where Stanley swings the mop around and it makes light saber sounds. Stanley IS the “‘Star Wars’ kid.”
Froemming: Well, a rescue is staged, but RJ wants to talk to the world on his station. Unfortunately, when he is about to cut away to his own segment, Philo uses his nerd magic to cut into his stream and air video of RJ saying how the people are a bunch of idiots. So, RJ is now a social pariah and is losing viewers to shows about winning fish from a wheel.
With the telethon back and raising money, we find they are about $2 grand short. And my favorite recurring joke comes to save the day. See, there is this homeless guy who asks if people have change, and if they do, he exchanges their dollars in coins for dollars in paper bills. It is a stupid gag, but one I really, really enjoy. Well, RJ gave this guy a penny that was apparently worth a crap-ton of cash. So, he comes and saves the day putting up the rest of the funds.
Brown: And just think that that bum could have been played by Ginger Baker from the band Cream!
Look, it’s from Wikipedia but it is sourced. And that’s something that is fascinating about this movie is who could have been in it. Michael Richards nearly turned down the role because he was dealing with Bell’s palsy at the time. The Victoria Jackson role had auditions from the bride of Chucky herself, Jennifer TIlly, and Ellen DeGeneres! Jerry Seinfeld (!!) was considered for the role of Bob, and Joel Hodgson of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” was in mind for the role of Philo. Imagine if all these people were in this movie!
… It still wouldn’t have been seen in theaters. Have you seen what was released around the time “UHF” came out?
- “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”
- “Ghostbusters II”
- “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”
- “Lethal Weapon 2”
- “Batman.” The one with Jack Nicholson
- “License to Kill,” so, you know, a Bond movie
- “When Harry Met Sally…”
- “Weekend at Bernie’s,” which needs to be a JOE-DOWN movie.
Froemming: Counterpoint: “UHF” is better than all those movies.
And so, after being publicly humiliated by “Weird Al” like Michael Jackson, Madonna and Coolio, RJ has more problems. His station is late with their broadcast license and some dude from the FCC saw his rant and decided to pull it all together.
This is not how this works. This is not how any of this works!
Brown: So wait, the FCC sees a PG rant from an asshole and they pull a broadcast license. But U62 has a show where dogs plummet out of a third-story window and we’re cool with this? That’s some pretty selective enforcement.
I’m parched. Let’s go to recommendations so we can go take a drink from THE FIRE HOSE!
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Brown: Hell yeah. It’s another case of a dumb movie but an enjoyable one. It’s like a lesser “Airplane!”
Froemming: Yup. This movie is great!