Picks and Pans Review: Uhf

updated 08/07/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/07/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Al Yankovic, Michael Richards

One reason Yankovic's record and video parodies (Eat It, Like a Surgeon, Fat) are so funny and pointed is that they have obvious targets. This film, which Yankovic co-wrote with first-time director Jay Levey, seems to be firing blind most of the time. There are a number of clever bits, but they're just tossed into the plot at odd moments, like the extraneous stuff Yankovic lampoons in other people's videos.

The title comes from the scruffy UHF station that Yankovic takes over after his uncle wins it in a card game. The station becomes a hit when Richards, a dim-witted janitor, begins hosting a kids show that's a mix of Pee-wee's Playhouse and One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest. But then the uncle decides to sell the station to pay a gambling debt, inspiring the telethon that climaxes the movie.

Interspersed in all this are such things as commercials—for a huge store called Spatula City and a place called Plots R Us, a mortuary with a salad bar. There is a promo for a film called Gandhi II, in which the Mahatma comes back as a martial arts expert. Among the new programs Yankovic puts on the station are Wonderful World of Phlegm, Bowling for Burgers and Conan the Librarian. All this sending-up is weighed down by an exceedingly pokey development of the plot. And Saturday Night Live's Victoria Jackson, as Yankovic's girlfriend, is painfully vapid, yet Yankovic is hardly an assertive enough actor to carry the whole film. Richards, the chronic geek from NBC's old Friday show, helps a lot, and some intriguing faces show up—comic Emo Phillips, one-time soap star Tony Geary, movie veteran Billy Barty and Gedde (Gung Ho) Watanable. Too much of this film goes too slowly, though, and a satire that leaves itself open for that kind of comment is like a boxer who is a sucker for a counterpunch—not a contender. (PG-13)

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