Producers: Al Yankovic, Michael Farah, Joe Farrell, Whitney Hodack, Tim Headington, Lia Buman and Max Silva Director: Eric Appel Screenplay: Eric Appel and Al Yankovic Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Evan Rachel Wood, Rainn Wilson, Toby Huss, Julianne Nicholson, David Bloom, Richard Aaron Anderson, Spencer Treat Clark, Jack Lancaster, Tommy O’Brien, Distributor: The Roku Channel
It stands to reason that a biographical movie about pop song parodist Weird Al Yankovic would itself be a parody of cinematic musical biographies that follow a rise-fall-redemption arc and play fast and loose with facts. It’s also appropriate that it should be dumb and juvenile, like Weird Al’s numbers were.
But unfortunately the movie by Yankovic and co-writer/director Eric Appel, and narrated by Diedrich Bader as “contemporary” Al, follows the template of Yankovic’s songs in another respect. They were short, but even at a few minutes they usually ran out of steam before they ended. “Weird” isn’t short, but otherwise follows that pattern: it works for a while, but then gets duller and duller as it aims for bigger targets. It’s the old half-a-loaf story.
The initial “rise” act is actually pretty funny, in the way that a film like “Airplane!” was. The scenes involving young Al (Richard Aaron Anderson) being berated by his manically belligerent father Nick (Toby Huss), who brutalizes the poor accordion salesman (Thomas Lennon) trying to peddle his wares, and of Al taking up the instrument secretly with the help of his mother Mary (Julianne Nicholson), work. So does the segment showing Al as a teen (David Bloom) wowing his classmates at a “forbidden” polka party and then (now played by Daniel Radcliffe) discovering his calling in a breakfast epiphany with his roomies (Spencer Treat Clark, Jack Lancaster and Tommy O’Brien), who help him record his first song and become his backup band. His instant discovery by oddball radio DJ Dr. Demento (Rainn Wilson) is engaging, and even a pool party featuring guests like Wolfman Jack (Jack Black), Andy Warhol (Conan O’Brien), Pee-wee Herman (Jorma Taccone), Tiny Tim (Demetri Martin), Divine (Nina West), Alice Cooper (Akiva Schaffer), Gallagher (Paul F. Tompkins), John Deacon (David Dastmalchian) and Salvador Dalí (Emo Philips) is loonily amusing. Up to this point Radcliffe and his cohorts keep things afloat with their doggedly deadpan approach to the ridiculous material.
As Yankovic’s star rises, though, the movie itself deflates. That’s especially the case when Madonna (Evan Rachel Wood) enters the picture as a gold-digger who romances Al in order to benefit from the inevitable career “bump” that supposedly occurs whenever he parodies a singer’s song. This “fall” part of the scenario, which also includes the notion that Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” was actually a parody of “Eat It” rather than the reverse, grows increasingly tedious, especially after notorious drug kingpin Pablo Escobar (Arturo Castro) shows up and Al enters Sylvester Stallone “Rambo” mode. And things don’t improve much when his reunion with his long-estranged parents reveals why Nick was so fiercely opposed to his taking up the accordion in the first place; what’s meant to be a hilarious capper is instead a groaner.
This isn’t unusual: as many movies that tries to emulate the Zucker brothers-Jim Abrahams formula (and they themselves in some of their later efforts) proved, it’s difficult to sustain this kind of zaniness over the full length of a feature. The fact that “Weird” manages to do so for its first half is kind of remarkable.
You also have to admire Radcliffe’s commitment to the idiocy. Throughout he plays things with the droll earnestness required to keep the goofy fantasy afloat. The other actors follow suit, even as the script loses its footing. And it’s chockablock with cameos to keep viewers on their toes, not only in the pool sequence but elsewhere, with folks like Lin-Manuel Miranda, Quinta Brunson, Patton Oswalt, Michael McKean, Scott Aukerman, Dot-Marie Jones and Josh Groban popping up along with Will Forte, who’s the obsequious brother of a record company mogul that Yankovic himself plays in heavy makeup. (Yankovic also does “his” singing.) This is a modestly-budgeted picture, but the technical team headed by production designer Dan Butts, costumer Wendy Benbrook and cinematographer Ross Riege give it the bright, glossy look of basic cable fare, while editor Jamie Kennedy moves the narrative as smoothly as possible from silly episode to silly episode, while the background score by Leo Birenberg and Zach Robinson adds to the perkiness.
“Weird” is funny so long as it doesn’t aim for the skies, but when it goes for the topper, it comes down to earth with a thud.