Though it was a bit too violent for its PG rating, I found "Silver Streak" a delightful Hitchcockish comedy-thriller some 13 years ago. That was the first film to team Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor, and you may recall that Pryor actually had a supporting role in that one. In fact, "Silver Streak" was instrumental in Pryor's rise to film stardom.
Wilder and Pryor reteamed, this time with equal billing, for "Stir Crazy" in 1980. The script wasn't much, the language earned it an R rating and two-thirds into the film it ran out of steam. But this unlikely duo still had a lot of chemistry together and they played very well together on screen.
The chemistry is still there in the latest Wilder-Pryor teaming, "See No Evil, Hear No Evil," as Wilder and Pryor play off each other very well but, alas, the script is a real dud, and the stars' penchant for cheap, vulgar humor goes overboard.
The idea here is that Pryor is blind and Wilder is deaf, and "See No Evil" is a one-joke film that drives that one joke into the ground and then just keeps on going. To their credit, the two comic actors deliberately give their characters quiet dignity, playing two men trying to cope with handicaps they received late in life. They also must deal with their own sense of denial, the natural anger they feel and the callousness of those they meet. As Pryor says about Wilder when someone talks to him as if he's an idiot, "He's deaf, not stupid!"
But the film is stupid, and I could go on and on about how idiotic the script is, how contrived the story is and how juvenile the gags are, but suffice it to say we're back in Hitchcock territory with the boys witnessing a murder and not knowing it Pryor heard (and smelled) it, Wilder saw the killer walk away. Naturally they are arrested, escape and try to track down the killer themselves while the police are chasing them.
This simple-minded plot is tired and unoriginal, but then so is the entire movie.
The real shame, however, is seeing two comics as talented as these guys wasting their time doing obvious sex jokes and punctuating every other scene with vulgar language when they should be approaching their craft in more creative ways. Doing blind and deaf characters is itself opening the door for potential tastelessness, and to pile on all kinds of other tacky humor in addition seems redundant and fruitless.
The supporting performers fare no better the cops and villains are equally bumbling, but in ways that are more embarrassing than funny. It's hard to believe "See No Evil" was directed by Arthur Hiller, who also did "Silver Streak." And if it was really written by the five credited screenwriters including Wilder they must have used Saturday morning cartoons instead of classic comedy as their inspiration.
"See No Evil, Hear No Evil" is a major disappointment but then that pretty much sums up most of the respective careers of Pryor and Wilder during the past decade. What a shame, and what a waste.
And it's even sadder that the movie made so much money last week. This will doubtless be considered by filmmakers in general and by Pryor and Wilder in particular validation that this kind of raunchy, ill-conceived comedy is good. It's not good.
The fans who made "See No Evil" a first-week hit paid for the anticipation of what they expected rather than what they received.
"See No Evil, Hear No Evil" is rated R for considerable violence, profanity and vulgarity and a brief nude scene (a villainess in a shower).