Devilishly bad movie gives no reason to 'Stay Tuned'

August 15, 1992|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

"Stay Tuned" is an elaborate and ambitious attempt to look at the zany world of cable TV.

Do the words "it stinks" mean anything to you?

There are more laughs to be experienced aimlessly hitting the remote in the hours after midnight and flashing through Lost Combination Cable Network and SuperStation 99 from downtown Omaha and Total War Cable Network and Old, Bad Western Theater than in any single instant of "Stay Tuned."

Did the money men behind this piece of cheese look at the record of director-photographer Peter Hyams, which is one long bland litany of mediocrity -- "2010: The Sequel," "The Star Chamber," "Running Scared" -- as well as being utterly devoid of humor?

Here's the lame concept: Dad -- the bland John Ritter -- is a complete couch potato, ignoring wife Pam Dawber while whiling away the hours in cable paralysis. One night, someone knocks on the door, a smarmy salesman who berates him into taking possession of an elaborate satellite-dish system, giving him access to 600 channels. Alas, the salesman is really Mr. Mephistopheles, the devil himself and when Dad signs up, he's really signing away his soul.

Soon he and Mom are sucked into the tube universe, where they wander among channels turning up on sarcastic versions of TV shows. For reasons having only to do with the mechanics of the plot, they have 24

Yours to get back or they're tubed forever. Their son, an electronics genius, tries to rescue them.

But all of this, of course, is a cumbersome pretext to provide an endless number of take offs on bad TV. Here it gets complicated: A) What is the point of parodying something that is dTC already a parody? And B) Far more complicated still, what is the point of parodying something that is already a parody when you do it so badly? The only thing that would make less sense would be if someone would now make a bad $50 million parody of "Stay Tuned." I think I'll call Morgan Creek right now!

Nothing is particularly well worked out. The concept of hell as a cable franchise just languishes as Hyams makes up arbitrary rules to hold the story together. For example, at one point, when Pam 'n' John are trapped, it is suddenly revealed there are "conduits" between the channels, so they can go from one to the other. In other mix-ups, sometimes they go to actual TV shows -- such as a limp game show called "You Can't Win," as it's being broadcast in a studio.

All these little rule violations might pass unnoticed if the movie were consistently gut-busting. But far too often the parodies are tame and inane; there's no savagery in the wit, only an occasional twist of teen-age bad taste. The enterprise is almost doomed by virtue of being conceived as PG material: It's never dangerous enough. One only has to remember the raunchy but hysterical "Kentucky Fried Movie," or some of the mind-blowing stuff in "Airplane" or "The Naked Gun" to understand that parody has to go further than what it parodies to work.

There's one other thing worth remarking upon: Chuck Jones, the legendary Warner Bros. animator who helmed the Bugs Bunny series, has been lured out of retirement to contribute a brief sequence where Ritter and Dawber find themselves in an animated universe. It stinks, too.

'Stay Tuned'

Starring John Ritter and Pam Dawber.

Directed by Peter Hyams.

Released by Morgan Creek.

Rated PG.

*

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