The last two weeks could not have gone any better for “Weird Al” Yankovic. Capped off by the news that his 14th studio album, “Mandatory Fun,” debuted at No. 1 on today’s Billboard Top 200 after more than 100,000 sales, the polka parody legend resurrected his name in this YouTube era with eight strategically-launched new music videos that had new and old fans of all ages loving every second. Even A-holes who hate everything had something brand new to complain about for more than a week, so it really was a period of eight crazy days – a Hanukkah in July, if you will – that belonged to Weird Al.
There’s a little irony in all of this, though, as the 54-year old comedy icon just so happens to be celebrating his first ever No. 1 album on the same week that marks the 25th anniversary of arguably his greatest commercial failure. On Monday, Al pointed out that the 1989 comedy film UHF is celebrating a quarter of a century, as it was released in theaters on July 21, 1989 to a resounding chorus of, “Oh, the ‘Eat It’ guy is making movies now?”
UHF was supposed to be the start of a brand new era that evolved Weird Al from music video star to comedic leading man. Alas, the response to Hollywood was mostly, “No thanks.”
The executives at Orion Pictures really thought they had a hidden gem on their hands, a film with a $5 million budget that starred a guy whose music videos were pretty popular. Unfortunately, UHF was released in a summer that already had huge mainstream comedy hits in Ghostbusters 2 ($225 million), Honey I Shrunk the Kids ($222 million) and When Harry Met Sally ($92 million). Even Weekend at Bernie’s, of all the terrible movies that have ever been made, managed to double its budget to earn $30 million. UHF? $6 million. I guess moviegoers in 1989 were just way more interested in seeing a woman grope a dead man for cocaine than watching a series of clever parody sketches loosely tied together by the story of a loser picked by his uncle to run a local TV channel.
It didn’t help UHF’s cause that the two biggest critics of the day, Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, took a big, old dump all over the movie’s potential with this less-than-stellar review:
If a movie that is nothing more than a series of dumb sketches can’t be considered successful, then someone needs to explain Titanic to me. Regardless, like most of the movies that I’ve taken to celebrating, UHF is a movie that wouldn’t find success until years later, when it became a favorite of people who watched Comedy Central at 2 am on weeknights and enjoyed trying new titles from the $3.99 VHS bin at Blockbuster. But just as Weird Al’s greatest career achievement in “Mandatory Fun” deserves to be celebrated, so does UHF.