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‘UHF’ (PG-13)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
July 21, 1989

You look at his picture, you hear he's called "Weird Al" Yankovic, you nod your head. The man, if nothing else, has the right name.

"UHF," his motion-picture debut -- why does that word seem highfalutin here? -- demonstrates that (1) "Weird Al" is a very "sick puppy" and (2) old parodists never die, they just raid away.

Ever since his pop-tweaking of the Knack's 1979 pop-tweaking "My Sharona" (called "My Bologna"), Yankovic has made Grammy for old rope with sendups of Michael Jackson ("Eat It" for Jackson's "Beat It," and "Fat" for "Bad"), Madonna, Queen, Billy Idol and other, more serious hemp resellers.

Now, in "UHF," he hauls in the sisal again, from the movies (including "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and the skin-stretching scene from "Brazil") and late-night TV (look for a commercial for a specialized factory outlet called Spatula City, as well as a music-vid combo of "The Ballad of Jed Clampett" and Dire Straits's "Money for Nothing").

But those comic bits come with plot strings attached: "Weird Al" becomes manager of floundering TV station Channel 62 and battles the big affiliates with alternative, offbeat programming; he has to believe in himself, win the ratings war and stay respectable enough for girlfriend Victoria Jackson to stick around.

"UHF" is not a uniformly funny experience, unless you have to wear a bib and tend to laugh at anything, such as sudden gusts of wind. Yankovic, co-writing with manager Jay Levey (who also directed), goes for gag after gag. Some hit, some miss. You laugh, you cry.

There's something for everyone here (as long as everyone thought going to a "Weird Al" Yankovic movie was a good idea in the first place), including Channel 62's new game show, "Wheel of Fish," or a regular feature called "Raul's Wild Kingdom," in which host Raul, among other things, shakes up an ant farm ("Hey look, they're really mad now!") and teaches poodles to "fly" from his apartment window. But the funniest thing in the movie, most will agree, is performer Michael Richards (who, you may remember, was the funniest thing on the ill-fated comedy TV series "Fridays"). Nuttier (and more innocently endearing) than Pee-Wee Herman, he's an out-there janitor-naif called Stanley Spadowski who takes over a kiddie show and becomes big money with goofy, spasmodic charm. As momentarily amusing as "Weird Al's" sendups can be, Richards's shtick is lastingly funnier. "UHF" is more likely to be remembered as his debut.

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