If “Weird Al” Yankovic were to be summed up in one word, it would be — well,Weird. He’s even earned the capitalization. It’s on the nose, but it’s still the best and only way to describe a man who launched a successful, decades-spanning career (still going strong!) armed only with Hawaiian shirts, an impressive mustache (which I greatly miss), and an unparalleled talent for parody songwriting. In the summer of 1989, he introduced us to another of his marvelous gifts: co-writing and starring in the cult classic UHF. Over the span of 97 minutes, Yankovic definitively proved that his bottomless well of weird extended far beyond music and into the realm of film.
1989 was no stranger to offbeat cinema. We were introduced to spaced-out time travelers in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, raft boat-sized Cheerios inHoney, I Shrunk the Kids, good-humored corpse desecration in Weekend at Bernie’s, even a walking, slime-splattered Statue of Liberty in Ghostbusters II(we probably could have done without that last one). I won’t even get started onMeet the Feebles. However, even if it was unfairly buried at the box office due to some of the aforementioned releases, there was no greater absurdity on the silver screen that year than UHF.
The true genius of UHF, in all its brilliant and endlessly quotable strangeness, lies in the fact that “Weird Al” himself plays the straight man, constantly juxtaposed with (and often oblivious to) a world overflowing with absurd characters and situations. For the first, and perhaps only, time in his career, he chose not to be the weird one, and it’s this playing against expectation that effectively earns the film its praise.
To be fair, some of the movie’s best sequences are when we see Yankovic parody the likes of Indiana Jones, Rambo and others, and these might appear to contradict the straight-man role. But they all occur in the context of his daydreams, never in reality. He aspires to weirdness in his fantasies, but in real life his character is as ordinary as they come.
But thanks to UHF, the rest of us don’t have to endure a life so ordinary. So sit back, grab your remote, and tune into Channel 62. Be sure to stick around after “Wheel of Fish,” because I hear a special someone on “Stanley Spadowski’s Clubhouse” may get to drink from the fire hose!
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