The young “Weird Al” Yankovic has taken the musical world by storm with the hit parody song “My Bologna,” an ingenious, chart-topping takeoff on the Knack’s “My Sharona,” and he’s been invited to a star-studded pool party hosted by none other than the legendary king-making radio host Dr. Demento — a party attended by everyone from Pee-wee Herman to Andy Warhol to Tiny Tim to Gallagher to Alice Cooper to Devo to Frank Zappa to Salvador Dali, who proclaims, “Dali predicts he will change everything we know about art! Weird Al will change the world!”
A skeptical Wolfman Jack mocks Weird Al’s alleged talents and challenges him to create a parody song right then and there, on the spot. What! Outrageous! And yet Weird Al is up to the challenge, as he takes out his accordion and belts out a parody to “Another One Bites the Dust,” called “Another One Rides the Bus”:
Another comes on and another comes on
Another one rides the bus
Hey, he’s gonna sit by you, another one rides the bus
The crowd goes crazy, as if they’ve witnessed the moment when the Beatles took the stage on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” A shaken Wolfman Jack confesses, “That was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard in my life.”
With that crazy-ass, nonsensical, hilarious scene, which takes place about a third of the way through the wildly fictional faux-biopic “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story,” I was ready to settle in for a clever pop culture parody on the level of the first “Austin Powers” or “Walk Hard.” Unfortunately, despite the valiant efforts of Daniel Radcliffe in the title role and a nearly endless parade of wonderful comedic talents popping up (Jack Black is Wolfman Jack, Rainn Wilson plays Dr. Demento, Conan O’Brien is Andy Warhol), Eric Appel’s admirably ambitious and intermittently inspired funhouse take on Yankovic’s life and times runs out of gas well before the finish line.
It’s an extremely difficult feat to pull off a feature-length parody over a feature-length running time (in this case 108 minutes). “Weird” has the ingredients of a brilliant half-hour special stretched too thin.
Co-written by Yankovic and Appel, “Weird” expands on the parody trailer for a Weird Al biopic that was created nearly a decade ago for “Funny or Die,” with Aaron Paul as the title character. The conceit in the sketch has Weird Al taking the world by storm with his cheerfully corny riffs on pop hits and then following the path of pop stars in a hundred musical biopics — believing his own hype, entering into a high-profile romance, turning on his fans, partying too hard, etc., etc. — and that’s pretty much what we get in the film. What better format to profile a famous parody artist than a parody film?
“Weird” kicks off with the obligatory childhood sequences, with young Al (David Bloom) dreaming of writing and performing funny songs, to the great consternation of his mother Mary (Julianne Nicholson) and the absolute horror of his explosively angry father Nick (Toby Huss), who lost a hand “down at the factory” where he expects Al to work someday soon, and will refuse to acknowledge his son’s dreams even after Al has achieved success, because that’s what cranky old-school dads do in musical biopics.
Cut to Weird Al’s college days (with Radcliffe taking on the role) and Al striking gold when he makes bologna sandwiches for his roommates right after hearing “My Sharona” on the radio and comes up with his wacky take, i.e., “Ooh my little hungry one, hungry one, open up a package of My Bologna”!
Just like that, a parody star is born.
The appeal of Weird Al is that he’s been consistently uncool, from the Hawaiian shirts to the oversized eyeglasses to the accordion to the videos that are just as corny as his PG-rated lyrics. We almost feel anyone could do what Weird Al has done — but nobody else can. It’s his niche, and he’s been doing it so long that he IS pretty cool now. Who doesn’t have fond memories of singing along to some stupid Weird Al song?
So, it’s kinda great that “Weird” takes Yankovic’s story down a myriad of ridiculous roads, with Al becoming such a big star and such a narcissistic ass that he takes a “hard pass” on performing with Queen at Live Aid, turns down the opportunity to become the next James Bond and is offended that Michael Jackson wants to ride his coattails. But when “Weird” gets into an extended plot involving a tumultuous romance between Al and Madonna (a game Evan Rachel Wood, stuck playing a one-note caricature) that segues into a dull and unfunny action-movie parody plot turn pitting Al and Madonna against Pablo Escobar (Artur Castro), the engine is out of gas. When things end with a done-do-death parody of a certain horror movie’s final scene, it’s almost as if even the filmmakers are ready to admit they’re out of jokes.