Movie Review: Daniel Radcliffe goes Wigged and “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story”

He responded to a poster soliciting a new lead singer for a punk band. Despite ripping through “Beat on the Brat” in the audition, he gets a hard pass.

Maybe it was the instrument he used as accompaniment to that Ramones cover, an accordion he bought from a door-to-door salesman.

High school pals lured him to a teen party, which he was shocked to see is a “POLKA party!” Starstruck girls arguing the relative merits of Myron Floren or Dick Contino, the guys pick on our hero, taunting him with “The Chicken Dance.” But just as he was playing the keys off his “devil’s squeeze box,” somebody yells “It’s the COPS. Everybody, RUN!”

In his heyday, he whipped up the “completely original” “Eat It,” only to have “that kid from The Jackson Five” rip him off with a parody cover version. He was inspired to compose his first hit when “My Sharona” played on a radio as he was serving up some non-Oscar-Mayer processed meat sandwiches.

Fame, riches, MTV Music Awards, Grammys, breaking Beatles chart records, a tortured longtime love affair with Madonna, who lusted for a “Yankovic bump” if he sent up “Like a Virgin, busted in Miami for “lewd behavior” on stage, considered to “replace Roger Moore as James Bond” (As if!), stalked by drug lord and obsessed-fan Pablo Escobar, it’s all part of the legend, the lore of “Weird” Al Yankovic, “arguably the most important accordion player in an extremely specific corner of music.”

Littered with truths, untruths, amusing whoppers and celebrity cameos, “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” might be the most fun of any movie this year — on paper.

Getting screen icon Daniel Radcliffe to play national treasure Weird Al, hiring “Silicon Valley” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” veteran Eric Appel to co-write and direct, and having people from Lin-Manuel Miranda and Evan Rachel Wood (as Madonna) to Rainn Wilson (as Dr. Demento) and Jack Black (Wolfman Jack!) line up to be in it, how could this miss? Slightly more than half the time?

The idea was to make a parody version of a musical bio-pic about the world’s most celebrated parody artist, complete with a rapid rise from a hard-luck childhood to early rejection to stardom to booze-fueled meltdowns, “Rambo” shootouts back to rock bottom — factory work at the same place where his accordion-hating old man (Toby Huss) lost a hand on the job decades before.

Wood has the most fun, vamping up the mercenary Madonna. But Will Forte, Black, Conan O’Brien (Andy Warhol!) and many others seem tickled to be here, even if the jokes are Al-level groaners, only some of them landing.

“Weird” gets by on the warm feels we all have for Yankovic and his place in the culture. And it’s cute seeing too-obvious “inspirations” for this version of a pop hit, or that one. I have to say, Appel and Al make those musical bio-pic tropes almost as spine-tingling as the moment Freddie Mercury conjures “Scaramouch, Scaramouch, will you do the Fandango!” out of thin air in “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

The gags may be, to a one, low-hanging fruit. The cheapness of the enterprise is embraced with every ugly wig, every “That’s not the REAL Oprah/Dali/Diana Ross and Hulk Hogan,” every song given an over-the-top music video recreated live — on stage. Al does all the singing, by the way, and has a cameo as a jerk record exec.

Truthfully, there aren’t enough gags and giggles to make this take flight. It sort of lumbers by for 100 minutes before sputtering out in the finale. Radcliffe? He doesn’t give the guy the weirder than life, larger than life turn he warrants.

The funniest stuff is in the earlier scenes, with his Dad beating the hell out of that accordion salesman (Thomas Lennon), Al obsessively tuning into “The Dr. Demento Show” under the sheets, discovering he doesn’t have to be “a closet accordion player” any more.

Because accordions are cool. All the kids love accordion players. The evidence is right here on the screen, just the way Al remembered it. And no, he didn’t grow up in North Dakota.

Rating: TV-14

Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Evan Rachel Wood, Rainn Wilson, Jack Black, Julianne Nicholson, Toby Huss, Thomas Lennon and “Weird Al” Yankovic.

Credits: Directed by Eric Appel, scripted by Weird Al’ Yankovic and Eric Appel. A Roku Original.

Running time: 1:47

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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