Lone Wolf Sullivan is a writer, songwriter, and studio musician.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Stay Tuned (1992) * * ¾

Roy Knable (John Ritter) is a couch potato and struggling Seattle plumbing salesman married to Helen (Pam Dawber), his neglected wife and a vitamin product manager. After a fight where Helen throws one of Roy's fencing trophies into the family television, smashing the screen, Mr. Spike (Jeffrey Jones) appears at the couples' door, offering Roy a high tech new satellite dish system filled with 666 channels of every program you can't get on the four big networks. Roy signs the contract which actually requires a one-time payment of his soul. He and Helen are sucked into their own TV set, an alternative TV dimension called Hellvision, where they are kept on the run through such monstrous fare as "I Love Lucifer" and "Northern Overexposure." If they can survive for 24 hours, they learn, they will be returned to their normal lives. But if they get killed, their souls will go to Satan. Eventually, their disenchanted kids Darryl (David Tom) and Diane (Heather McComb) discover mom and dad are trapped in the TV set and they set about rescuing them. Darryl is an electronics whiz and puts his ingenuity to work to get them back.

Helen Knable: You sadistic bastard!
Mr. Spike: Runs in the family! My father was an oil company president.
(Helen and Roy Knable are sucked into the HVTV dish)
Mr. Spike: Fasten your seat belts, folks. It's going to be a bumpy ride! Ha, ha, ha, ha!
You Can't Win host: Do you know the rules of our game?
Helen Knable: (not sure where she is) What game?
Mr. Spike: Screw up in here, and you're dead meat... dead meat.

The hellish television world is full of satirical shows and movies. In some shows, the Knables are transformed into various roles and forms that fit the plot of the movie they happen to be in at the time. There's Captain Jean-Luc Picard in the STAR TREK TNG scene, Clint Eastwood in a spaghetti western, and even Jack Tripper (a character portrayed by Ritter) on the set of THREE'S COMPANY. Others are "Facts of Life Support", "30 Something to Life", "Sadistic Hidden Videoes" , "Murder, She Likes", "You Can't Win", and commerical parodies. They are pursued by Mr. Spike (also known as "Mephistopheles of the Cathode Ray") who enters some shows along with the Knables in order to halt their advance. He too takes on alternate forms that reflect the themes of the various shows, such as the Klingon and Android in the STAR TREK scene, and the driver in "Driving Over Miss Daisy".

TV Announcer: How did James Dean really die? Find out tonight on "Autopsies Of The Rich And Famous".
Voice over on one of the HVTV channels: The next item we have for you on the "Home Shoplifting Channel"...
TV Announcer: Welcome to "Northern Overexposure", the story of a young doctor from New York who comes to Alaska, complains about everything, and freezes to death.
Voice over on one of the HVTV channels: And now the all-new mini-series about the French Revolution... "Off With His Head", the story of the Marquis de Knable, an enemy of the people, who tries to escape the guillotine by wearing a disguise. It's an epic drama of love, danger, and cross-dressing. Stay tuned for the final chapter of "Off With His Head", when the Marquis de Knable finally loses his.

Helen Knable: Where's my husband?
Murray Seidenbaum: What are you worried about him for? I ditched my wife five channels ago. She happened to meet the business end of a fifty-ton reptile. And I can tell you, I don't exactly miss dried meat loaf.
(Murray Seidenbaum gets shot. Roy Knable approaches him)
Murray Seidenbaum: (to Roy, just before dying) All I wanted was to be the big shot for once. Take my remote.

Salt-n-Pepa make a cameo appearance near the end of the film in a "Hell TV" (MTV) segment. Mr. Spike, the DJ in this segment of the film, throws records at Roy who is dressed in a satirical Prince outfit. Roy is pursued in an elaborate music video by the rap duo Salt-n-Pepa. A zany touch is in the middle of the chase the "mute" on the remote control is accidentally pressed. However, Roy dodges them all, confronts Mr. Spike, and wins back the remote. The music video ends and Roy uses the remote to save his wife from being run over by a train. Roy and Helen are beamed back to the real world through their satellite dish. At the end of the movie, Roy has dramatically cut back on his TV viewing time, and is teaching a fencing class. A student attempts to disarm him with a fancy move, but fails. When he asks "Where did you learn that?", she replies "I saw it on TV once." Roy replies, "Don't watch too much TV, trust me it will get you into trouble."

After the unwatchable SHOCK TREATMENT (1981) and before the witty PLEASANTVILLE (1998), this comedy also features a family taking its problems out of the real world and into the crazy fictions of television entertainment. A genuine novelty, STAY TUNED is powered along by a chain of imaginative sequences, most memorably an original cartoon by Warner legend Chuck Jones that cleverly integrates Ritter and Dawber's characters. This social satire about the overbearing nature of television on underachieving lives is an imaginative and entertaining movie. The old rivalry between TV and film carries on in this clever parody, with many supporting players including SCTV legend Eugene Levy, SNL announcer Don Pardo, and hip-hop performers Salt-n-Pepa.

STAY TUNED takes a satiric concept and reduces it to a mild-mannered suburban comedy with little bite. It's an innoovative cleverly plotted movie that offers ample opportunity for spoofing anything and everything that can be found on television. The film is a bit more on target in its takeoffs of actual TV shows. One of the best moments is a "Wayne's Underworld" segment of "Saturday Night Dead," in which adolescents in ghoulish masks bash Roy in the head with the camera that is actually filming him. Ritter and Dawber don't do much in the movie except act frantic. However, Mr. Spike is an amusing caricature. With his creepy grins, arching eyebrows and stifled fits of apoplexy when things don't go his way, he suggests a TV executive gone bonkers from all the competitive pressure. STAY TUNED has been rated PG-13, with a few slightly off-color jokes. It's bizarre and cute.

Rita Kempley of the Washington Post called the film "wonderfully silly" and a "zippy action spoof." Variety magazine said the film was "not diabolical enough for true black comedy, too scary and violent for kids lured by its PG rating and witless in its sendup of obsessive TV viewing...a picture with nothing for everybody", and noted that the "six-minute cartoon interlude by the masterful Chuck Jones, with Ritter and Dawber portrayed as mice menaced by a robot cat...has a grace and depth sorely lacking in the rest of the movie." Time Out called it "pointless 'satire'" with the "emotional depth of a 30-second soap commercial."

The cast also includes: Bob Dishy (Murray Seidenbaum), Joyce Gordon (Sarah Seidenbaum), Eugene Levy (Crowley), Erik King (Pierce), Don Calfa (Wetzel), John B. Destry (Sackler), Susan Blommaert (Ducker), Maurice Verkaar (Another Buyer), Ken Douglas (Skeletal Worker), Gerry Nairn (Newscaster), Dale Wilson (Guy Squirly), Don Pardo (Game Show Announcer), Lou Albano (Ring Announcer), George Gray (Mr. Gorgan), Faith Minton (Mrs. Gorgon), Alan C. Peterson (Wrestling Referee), Marlowe Dawn (Cyndi), Laura Harris, Andrea Nemeth, Tiffany Michas, Kristen Cloke (Velma), Gianni Russo (Guido), Bill Croft (Torpedo #1), John Bear Curtis (Torpedo #2", Victor A. Young (Handsome Guard), Jonathon Pallone (Heavy Set Guard), Ken Kramer (Innkeeper), Dave "Squatch" Ward (Peasant), David Longworth (Another Peasant), Gordon Masten (Executioner), and many others. Bruce Broughton composed the original music. Tom S. Parker and Jim Jennewein wrote the screenplay based on a story they wrote with Richard Siegel. Peter Hyams directed.

DVD special features include subtitles in English and French, animated menus, a motion menu, scene access, biographies, filmographies and much more

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