Tag: Silver Streak

MOVIE REVIEW | Stir Crazy (1980)

It opens cutting between two scenes.  Gene Wilder, as Skip Donahue, is a struggling play write working as a department store security guard, gleefully accusing a woman of being a shoplifter who is naked her under overcoat.  Richard Pryor, as Harry Monroe, is a struggling actor working as a waiter at a swanky party where the cook mistakenly uses his stash of high end weed instead of oregano.  Cut to the two of them in a bar, they’re best friends and they’ve both just been fired from their jobs.  Wilder decides it’s a sign, they’re finally free to get out of New York… 1980 New York, where it’s every man for himself.  So they hit the road for California.

On their way, they take a job in Arizona dressing up as woodpeckers in a bank to sing and dance for customers.  While Wilder and Pryor are on their lunch break one day, some crooks steal the costumes and do the act before robbing the bank.  So of course, Wilder and Pryor are immediately arrested for the robbery.

This leads to a typical 80s racial gag when the two first arrive in jail.  All of a sudden, Pryor gets a certain swagger to his walk and ups the jive in the way he speaks, “You gotta be bad, jack.  Coz if you aint’ bad, you gonna get fucked.  Hey homes, get down”.  It in no ways rivals the uncomfortable black face of Silver Streak, but it really is a moment that would have only happened in a movie made in 1980.

Through comedy writing convenience, they’re sentenced to more than 100 years each in prison.   In keeping with the racial sensitivity displayed by Pryor’s ghetto act earlier, they are appointed a nebbishly Jewish lawyer who comes complete with all the cliched boxes ticked.  There’s also the odd gay joke, treated with the kind of open mindedness the 80s were so famous for.

Once they get to big boy prison, the story revolves around an inter-prison system rodeo competition.  Just let that sink in for a second.  The major plot point for the second half of this movie is about two prison wardens making their inmates compete against each other in a rodeo.

Wilder and Pryor really do prove themselves to be an awesome comedy duo.  Their timing is in absolute perfect sync, the physical gags they pull of together are all executed with pinpoint precision and every joke is built around each working to their individual strengths.

One thing confused me though.  The movie’s called Stir Crazy.  Wilder and Pryor both do countless batshit insane things.  Yet the actual state of their mental health is never really addressed.  Are they actually nuts, or are they just two regular dudes freaking out because they’re in prison.  Luckily, pretty much every single freak out is hilarious enough that I don’t really care.

Stir Crazy really is the anti-Silver Streak.  Where the latter built a convoluted story complete with predictable love interest, then tried to ad a joke in here and there, the former is nothing but wall to wall jokes, sketches and physical set pieces, with a bare bones story simply there to link them together.  But when the jokes, sketches and physical set pieces are this funny, a bare bones story linking them together is all you need.

Stir Crazy
Directed By – Sidney Portier
Written By – Bruce Jay Friedman

MOVIE REVIEW | Silver Streak (1976)

Silver Streak
I grew up loving See No Evil, Hear No Evil.  I know it hasn’t aged well and that a lot of people see it as the worst of the team ups between its two main actors.  And I know it’s probably fuelled by pure nostalgia these days, but what can I say, I still find Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor really funny in that movie.  Funny enough that’s it’s totally bizarre that I never got around to seeing their other two major teams ups, Stir Crazy and Silver Streak… Until now.  Because now, I have seen Silver Streak and I’m not sure I want to take my chances with Stir Crazy.

Gene Wilder plays George Caldwell, a mild mannered book editor, boarding the Silver Streak, a long haul train to Chicago.  On board, he meets Bob Sweet, a vitamin salesman played by Ned Beatty.  This meeting leads to one of the very few funny parts of Silver Streak when Beatty describes his methods for using train rides to score a bit of transient tail.  It turns out his theories aren’t so out there, because soon enough, Wilder has hooked up with train trollop Hilly Burns (Jill Clayburgh).

They hook up, or at least, they begin to hook up, but are rudely interrupted when Wilder sees a dead body hanging outside the train’s window.  This sets off a story of Wilder becoming more and more mixed up in a world of intrigue, suspense and mystery. I assume.  I got bored a lot and found myself zoning out for long periods of time struggling to give the smallest of shits about what was going on.  Silver Streak gets a much needed shot in the arm about halfway through when Richard Pryor pops up as pretty crook Grover T Muldoon.  Black face sequence aside, the chemistry of Wilder and Pryor is almost enough to make it worth sitting through the first half.  Almost.

Until the appearance of Pryor, I genuinely wasn’t sure if Silver Streak was supposed to be a comedy or an action thriller.  It’s not that I thought the jokes weren’t funny, the problem was I struggled to even recognise attempts at jokes.  Maybe it was just working on a subtle, dry level I just don’t get, but I wasn’t 100% sure it was even trying to be a comedy until I googled it and saw a poster that described Silver Streak as, “The most hilarious suspense ride of your life”.  Whoever wrote that had one sad life.  I say “had” because I assume that line’s author is dead now, having died of shame after lying to the movie going public like that.

In case I haven’t been clear, I did not like Silver Streak.  Wilder and Pryor both get a few funny bits here and there, but not nearly enough to fill a feature length film that’s supposedly “The most hilarious suspense ride of your life”.  I’m struggling, do I risk it and give Stir Crazy a go, or just play it safe and watch See No Evil, Hear No Evil again?

Silver Streak
Directed By – Arthur Hiller
Written By – Colin Higgins