Stay Tuned

Stay Tuned (1992)
Warner Home Video
Cast: John Ritter, Jeffrey Jones, Pam Dawber, David Tom, Heather McComb
Extras: Theatrical Trailer, Featurette, Bonus Trailers

Most classic films have earned that classification because the sum of the movie’s parts add up to a total package of entertainment. That is, all of the various ingredients of the film come together to make a wholly satisfying product. Of course, the flip-side of this is a film where nothing works at all. Somewhere in the middle, lie films like "Stay Tuned." The film as a whole is somewhat mediocre, but there is a certain gimmick running throughout the film that makes it worth watching. "Stay Tuned" is a great example of a film where certain parts are greater than the whole.

"Stay Tuned" focuses on Roy Knable (John Ritter), television addict and all-around loser. Roy has a dead-end job as a plumbing-supply salesman, and feels threatened by the success of his wife, Helen (Pam Dawber). To escape from his dismal life, Roy loses himself in television, watching TV non-stop. Unfortunately, this is causing him to lose touch with Helen, and their kids, Darryl (David Tom) and Diane (Heather McComb). After a fight with Helen leaves the TV a smoking ruin (why doesn’t a TV addict have a bigger TV?), Roy feels that all is lost.

Then, Spike (Jeffrey Jones) arrives at Roy’s door with an offer that Roy can’t refuse. Spike installs a wide-screen TV with surround sound (sweet) and a satellite dish and informs Roy that it will all be absolutely free. Roy signs the appropriate paperwork and begins to enjoy his new system. When Helen gets home and sees the monstrosity, she flees to the backyard and attacks the satellite dish. At this provocation, the dish sucks both Roy and Helen into the world of "Hellvision". It seems that Spike is the programming director for Satan’s own television network and the Knable’s are now going to star in hellacious shows until they die or can manage to escape.

At first glance, it appears that the only thing that "Stay Tuned" has going for it is the clever premise of Satan using television to gather souls. If played seriously, this concept is ripe for many plot lines focusing on addiction to television and how TV has warped the attention spans and social skills of so many Americans. (Hey, I love TV, so these views aren’t necessarily my own.) However, "Stay Tuned" takes the main premise and plays it as a comedy/action-adventure. The story is very predictable and observant viewers will be able to piece together the entire film after the 20-minute mark (my wife wasn’t even watching and guessed the ending!).

So, if the story is so rotten, how can I recommend "Stay Tuned"? That’s simple — the TV parodies. The best thing about "Stay Tuned" are the TV shows that the Knables land in or the commercials for other shows that pop up throughout the film. While most of these are simply titles of shows, such as "Three Men and Rosemary’s Baby" or "The Facts of Life Support", they are still very funny. Corny, yes, but clever and funny. You’ll be rolling your eyes, while laughing hysterically at the same time. As Roy and Helen move from show to show, the film continues to outdo itself by putting them into funny situations. The true set piece of the film is an animated sequence, which was supervised by famed Warner Brothers cartoonist Chuck Jones (actually, look for Jones self-portrait on a postage stamp in the sequence!). This is one of the longest segments of the film and well worth it, as it pays homage to the classic Bugs Bunny cartoons and is visually stunning. Other standout scenes are a music video and a very cheap, but funny joke, which could only feature John Ritter.

Director Peter Hyams, who also brought us "End of Days" and "The Relic" among many others, keeps the action moving along at a brisk pace throughout the film and also gives "Stay Tuned" a nice look. As usual, Hyams did double duty on "Stay Tuned," serving as both director and cinematographer, but avoids giving this film his usual dark look. (Did you see "The Relic"? No, I mean, COULD you see "The Relic"?) One scene that is handled especially well is near the end of the film and set in a castle. Here, Hyams uses his skills as a director of photography to masterfully blend light and dark. Actually, with some of the garrish colors used in the film (especially the game show scene), at time "Stay Tuned" doesn’t look like a Peter Hyams film at all. Unfortunately, some of the film is awkwardly edited, with the cutting back and forth between reality and the Hellvision world having little flow.

As "Stay Tuned" uses many elaborate sets and a great deal of special effects, it’s quickly obvious where the film’s budget has gone. Therefore, it is understandable why the producers would want to hire less-expensive, yet recognizable names like John Ritter and Pam Dawber. Both do fine in their roles, with Ritter showing that he is still a master of physical comedy. As usual, Jeffery Jones is brilliant, here mixing comedic timing with a smug arrogance. However, the actors portraying the Knable children do a horrible job and one can almost here Hyams yelling "Action!" during the awkward silences during their deliveries.

The Warner Home Video DVD of "Stay Tuned" offers Warner’s typical package of goodies. The film has been given an <$16x9,anamorphic> transfer and is <$PS,letterboxed> at 2.35:1. The picture is very crisp and clear, showing only an occasional flaw in the source print. There is little grain present, and it is only really noticable during some of the special effects shots. As mentioned above, the color palette really stands out on this film and the color balancing and color correcting have been handled very well in this transfer. The blacks are very deep, thus making the lighter hues (especially the reds) stand out very nicely. The letterboxing appears to be accurate, and no artifacting is noticeable.

The audio on "Stay Tuned" is a newly mastered <$DD,Dolby Digital> <$5.1,5.1 mix>, which works very well. As there are many action scenes throughout the latter half of the film, surround sound action is abundant. The audio is well-balanced, and the sound effects never drown out the dialogue. Also, as the Knables traverse the strange world of "Hellvision", the musical score is constantly changing and every note comes out very crisply on this audio mix.

The DVD of "Stay Tuned" features a six-minute featurette, which offers interviews with the cast, but is mostly made up of clips from the film. The theatrical trailer for "Stay Tuned" is offered and is <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.85:1. There are also three bonus trailers — "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective", "Chill Factor", and "Big Bully."

I’m sure that this review came across as a bit confusing, to wit, am I recommending "Stay Tuned" or not? As stated above, the movie is predictable, poorly acted in spots, and corny. Still, I urge everyone to see "Stay Tuned" based solely on the TV parodies. These vignettes are fast, funny, and in the case of the animated sequence, pure genius. Warner’s DVD offers a very nice transfer of "Stay Tuned", offering both good sound and image quality. It may be hard at times to stay tuned to "Stay Tuned", but in the end, it’s definitely worth it.