Friday, April 12, 2013

Film Review: STAY TUNED (1992, Peter Hyams)

Stars: 2.5 of 5.
Running Time: 88 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew:  John Ritter (THREE'S COMPANY, STEPHEN KING'S IT), Pam Dawber (Mindy on MORK AND MINDY), Jeffrey Jones (FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF, BEETLEJUICE, AMADEUS), Eugene Levy (BEST IN SHOW, WAITING FOR GUFFMAN), Erik King (STREET SMART, DEXTER), Don Calfa (RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, WEEKEND AT BERNIE'S), David Tom (PLEASANTVILLE), Heather McComb (APT PUPIL, ALL THE REAL GIRLS), a special appearance by Captain Lou Albano (WWF CHAMPIONSHIP WRESTLING, WISE GUYS), and Salt-N-Pepa as themselves.  Written by Tom S. Parker and Jim Jennewein (MAJOR LEAGUE II, THE FLINTSTONES '94, RICHIE RICH, GETTING EVEN WITH DAD).  Animation sequence supervised by Chuck Jones (LOONEY TUNES, MERRIE MELODIES, WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT).  Directed and shot by Peter Hyams (TIMECOP, RUNNING SCARED, SUDDEN DEATH, 2010).
Tag-line:  "The Knables signed up for a cable system that's out of this world!"
Best one-liner:  "Kids, don't try this at home!"

Hoping to achieve the success of other broad sci-fi/comedy/fantasy crossover fare like HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS or SHORT CIRCUIT or WEIRD SCIENCE, STAY TUNED tells the tale of a demonic company ("Hell-o-Vision") who sucks consumers through their satellite dishes into a television purgatory

whereupon they bounce from show to twisted show, trying to stay alive amid a sea of lethal clichés.  If they fail, they're (apparently) sentenced to eternal damnation.

In a touch of inspired casting, our heroes are ex-sitcom stars (John Ritter of THREE'S COMPANY and Pam Dawber of MORK AND MINDY), and the major villain, "Spike," is played by Jeffrey Jones (Dean Rooney from FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF), who is exactly who should be playing the role of a pompous, channel-flipping demon.  The first choice for director was Tim Burton, but ultimately the job went to Peter Hyams, a director known for zany buddy cop flicks (RUNNING SCARED, BUSTING), Jupiter-related sci-fi (2010, OUTLAND), and Jean-Claude Van Damme movies (TIMECOP, SUDDEN DEATH).

STAY TUNED aims for caustic satire, but the end result is an uneven jumble of high-energy gags that are occasionally clever, but usually blockheaded.  (I don't know what I expected– it's from the mastermind writing team that brought us MAJOR LEAGUE II, THE FLINTSTONES '94, RICHIE RICH, and GETTING EVEN WITH DAD.)  I might even go as far as to say that it ends up feeling like a cross between MOONWALKER and VIDEODROME, only it's not nearly as amazing as that sounds (not even close).

It's still got a few good moments, though, so now I'm going to regale you with a list of:


#1.  Jeffrey Jones' disembodied head, cackling with glee, and launching itself at the viewer from inside the confines of an actual cable line.

#2.  Cap'n Lou Albano revving up a crowd for John Ritter tag-team action.


#4.  Jeffrey Jones spinnin' and scratchin' and groovin' and quick-mixin' as he DJs a party in a Salt-N-Pepa music video (!).

#5.  A Maxell commercial parody involving decapitation and calling itself MAX HELL.


And I love that they got the detailing right on the satanic bassinet!

#7.  A STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION parody featuring Jeffrey Jones as multiple characters, including Worf, Data, and whoever is being depicted on that viewscreen:

(John Ritter is Picard.)


A zombie parody of a Saturday Night Live sketch that is itself a parody of the very specific niche of rock n' roll-based cable access TV.  Whew!


#10.  I didn't get a screencap of it, but we do see the title screen of a show called "FRESH PRINCE OF DARKNESS."  I wonder if John Carpenter would be the director?

#11.  A fiendish, alternate dimensional version of THREE'S COMPANY that becomes John Ritter's worst nightmare.
(If the whole movie was this bizarre, I probably would consider it a masterpiece.)

#12.  The inspiration for CABIN IN THE WOODS?!

If you haven't seen CABIN IN THE WOODS (henceforth CITW), stop reading now.  

Though I half-expected it to rub me the wrong way, I really enjoyed CITW.  And now I also know that STAY TUNED was likely the basis for the whole endeavor.  This doesn't at all ruin my CITW experience, but I think there should possibly be an "inspired by" credit, or some acknowledgment to the film which preceded it.

Before you call me crazy, consider the set-up:  poor archetypal schmucks are taken to a demonic arena to be sacrificed via cliché for the amusement of dark gods.  The ritual is orchestrated by demonic middle-management in a command center that resembles a high-tech office with lots of monitors, and so on.
There is a new, logical, go-getting black guy (here, DEXTER's Erik King, in CITW it's Brian White) to whom they must explain the process:

They monitor the progress of the other contestants–  here, an old lady is being killed in Tokyo by a Will Vinton-esque Godzilla–

which recalls the alternate city monsters in CITW, like the RINGU girl in Japan and the giant ape in Buenos Aires.
As the film progresses, the archetype of "The Fool" (Ritter in STAY TUNED and Fran Kranz in CITW) continues to thwart the plans of the demonic middle management, threatening to upend their organization,
and by the film's end, we've seen a deluge of nearly every cliché in the book planted in a new context (from TV in STAY TUNED, from horror movies in CITW).  So there you go:  a mostly mediocre fantasy comedy from 1992 ends up being responsible for the best horror movie of 2012?

Two and a half stars.

–Sean Gill


Francisco Gonzalez said...

This movie is fun times, but as you say, kind of uneven in tone. That scene where John Ritter turns into an animated character animated by WB Cartoon animator Chuck Jones was a highlight of the movie too.

Ritter makes the movie worth while in my book, I miss his brand of comedy, he was a funny dude.

John Guedes said...

Stay Tuned! For some reason I always confused parts of this with Amazon Women On The Moon and vice versa.

I also enjoyed CITW far more than I ever anticipated! Nice that you picked up on the connection, maybe Joss was a fan?

Sean Gill said...


Thanks for stoppin' by– yeah, I sure didn't expect a Chuck Jones-supervised animation sequence. And Ritter was really such a pleasant guy, he brought a real likability to his roles.


Good to see you– agreed re: AMAZON WOMEN ON THE MOON. I guess HOLY MOTORS is kind of the arthouse version of these flicks?
And I feel like I can definitely see Joss being a fan of this- it's got a certain ludicrous spectacle to it which CITW captures (and improves upon with gory flourish) in its third act.

Ryan said...

Your review, although not exactly glowing about the film as a whole, is making me want to revisit this one. I remember it being on Cinemax (I think?) frequently when I was a kid.

Sidenote: What ever happened to the top 100? I was looking through the blog to pick up where I'd left off a while back but saw that it stops with #41!

Sean Gill said...

Thanks Ryan, it's certainly a fun diversion, even if not a great movie, so go for it.

As to the top 100, I got a little lazy I guess and let it fall by the wayside. I've been fully intending to revisit it soon!