Two Cents Second-Chance Theater Presents: Weird Al in UHF

Two Cents is an original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team will program films and contribute our best, most insightful, or most creative thoughts on each film using a maximum of 200 words each. Guest writers and fan comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future entries to the column. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion.

The Pick (and the case against)

Beloved song parodist “Weird Al” Yankovic’s first foray into movie stardom, UHF flopped with audiences and critics in 1989. The film’s ‘plot’ finds Weird Al as ‘George Newman’, an aimless daydreamer who finds his life calling when his uncle gives him a disused and unwatched TV station to run. While Newman’s rivalry with hotshot competitor RJ Fletcher (Kevin McCarthy) forms the narrative spine for the film, that’s mostly just an excuse for Yankovic and director Jay Levey to string together lengthy parodies of Indiana Jones, Rambo, and various other movies, TV shows, music videos and other cultural ephemera that was ripe for a loving raspberry from Weird Al.

UHF’s initial failure cut Yankovic so deeply that he more or less dropped out of the industry for a few years, before returning with more parodies en route to becoming the entrenched, beloved cultural institution we know and love.

As for UHF, the film steadily developed a cult following and is revered by some as an unsung classic of 80’s comedy.

But not for Cinapse editor Austin Vashaw. Austin, why don’t you tell us a little bit about why UHF needed a second chance in the first place?


I was very much on board and eager for UHF the first time I watched it. AFter all, I’m a fan of Weird Al, and what I’d seen of the film’s famous parodies looked very much like my brand of silliness. But when I watched it, I just felt let down and disengaged by a movie that was just… extraordinarily stupid. I found it charmless, obnoxious, and exhausting, and for years was convinced it was a terrible movie.

That was years ago. More recently, I’ve been kind of intrigued by its growing cult appeal (not to mention introducing my kids to Weird Al’s music), and have been kind of itching to give it another go.

Next Week’s Pick:

It’s Brendan’s turn to give a disliked film a new day in the sun. For his choice, he’s checking back in to Ti West’s spooky and subtle The Innkeepers. It bored him stiff on first viewing, but maybe on the rewatch, the film will come back to life.

The Innkeepers is available to stream on Amazon Prime.

Would you like to be a guest in next week’s Two Cents column? Simply watch and send your under-200-word review to twocents(at) anytime before midnight on Thursday!

Also, if you have a movie that you disliked but want to give a second shot, let us know and we might feature it as one of our upcoming picks!

The Team

Austin Vashaw:

The Rewatch!

Guys, I have to admit — as stupid as this movie is, and it does dare to be stupid, second time actually was the charm.

It’s still not a “great” movie in my book, but on this rewatch I enjoyed it. Al is terrific, the parodies are chuckle-worthy, and I completely forgot that Fran Drescher and Kevin McCarthy were in it.

Personal growth? Maybe a little. I caught on to some more film references this time around that I hadn’t latched onto before, which certainly didn’t hurt, but I think it probably come down to more of a mood. UHF clearly hit me on a bad wavelength the first time, but I actually appreciated a lot more of it this time around.

“Second Chance Theater” is a fun concept and I don’t know how many of these will actually result in a meaningful reappraisal, but this one gets a happy ending.(@VforVashaw)

Brendan Foley:

A perfectly amiable way to spend 90 minutes, UHF hurls so many jokes and gags at the screen that a bunch can’t help but stick, even if the success-to-failure ratio is a little bit skewed. Yankovic and Levey are clearly working from the ZAZ method of comedy, pulling directly from the Airplane! bin at multiple turns, including casting Kevin McCarthy in the Leslie Nielson spot as the dignified veteran actor making a bug-eyed fool of himself. That’s an extremely prudent source of inspiration, and there are stretches in UHF where the film does play like a more kid-friendly companion piece to the Naked Guns and Top Secret!s of the world.

What those films had that UHF lacks is speed. Airplane! and Top Secret! and the early Naked Gun material plow through jokes at an incredible rate, sometimes filling the screen with half a dozen gags at once. That kind of pace is really hard to sustain (even ZAZ seemed to exhaust themselves: the Naked Gun series got weaker and weaker as it went, and their subsequent attempts at parody never worked as well) and UHF lingers too long on certain gag, or spins out on premises in search of jokes (the tiny cameraman and Fran Drescher as a news reporter are a neat comedy team that never arrives at any joke). I’m sure stuff like Weird Al intruding into Rambo and the “Money for Nothing” music video killed in the 80s, but they just kind of lay there nowadays.

But honestly, that’s nit-picking. UHF is just trying to be a silly good time, and at that it largely succeeds. Weird Al’s brand of parody has always been gentle and loving, and that inherent good naturedness shines through and makes the whole enterprise likable and sweet. (@theTrueBrendanF)

Justin Harlan:

Weird Al is an amazing artist with an amazing story. Growing up in a poor neighborhood in the LA basin, Al was friendly with the likes of Dr. Dre before blowing up to be a huge success. In fact, his success was inspirational to the gangster rapper and part of what led Dre to become the musical mega mogul he became. But, today we’re not here to discuss the musical genius that is Weird Al… instead we’re here to visit his classic comedic gem UHF.

UHF holds a special place in my heart. I saw it at age 8 or 9 and have watched it every couple of years since. It may not be as fantastic a film as my nostalgia paints it as, but some of the bits still make me laugh out loud. “Conan the Librarian” remains burnt into my psyche to this day and I laugh out loud every time I see it. Every time I walk into a library, I find myself using a faux Arnold accent and asking someone, “Don’t you know your Dewey Decimal System?!?”

I can’t wait to share this one with my kids as soon as possible, as they both already love Al’s music and can often be heard singing Al tunes old and new. Like Al himself, the film is goofy and fun, with something a bit smarter just under the surface. We should all take Al’s a dive and learn how to take life a bit less serious… perhaps we should even “dare to be stupid” every once in awhile. (@thepaintedman)

Next week’s pick:

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