Hubbs posted a MOVIE REVIEW item: 25 days ago

Sgt. Bilko



1996-sgt-bilko-poster1

Directed by: Jonathan Lynn
Written by: Nat Hiken , Andy Breckman
Cast: Steve Martin, Dan Aykroyd, Phil Hartman, Glenne Headly, Daryl Mitchell, Max Casella, Eric Edwards, Dan Ferro, John Marshall Jones, Brian Leckner, John Ortiz, Pamela Segall, Mitchell Whitfield, Austin Pendleton, Chris Rock
Studio: Universal Pictures
Genre: Comedy
Official Site:
Plot:

Review:

Like many classic American TV shows The Phil Silvers Show was something I knew of but have never really seen before (unlike Mr Ed which I did watch a lot when I was a kid living in the US back in 87. Still waiting for that inevitable movie adaptation). Sure I've seen the odd snippet here and there, I know what the basic premise is, but I've never actually seen an entire episode. So with that I originally saw this movie (back in 96 on first day release) as a newbie, and to this day that hasn't changed. I still haven't seen anything much of the original material except for snippets. So to me Steve Martin is essentially my Sgt. Bilko, but is that a good thing?

The plot: Like almost all of Steve Martin's movies the plot is incredibly simple (admittedly so was the source material). Master Sergeant Ernest Bilko is in charge of the motor pool (a garage in the military) at Fort Baxter in the US army. He and his boys have an easy life bending the rules and trying to dodge any kind of actual military work where ever possible. Their entire operation is a smooth running gravy train with Col. John T. Hall (Dan Aykroyd) successfully kept in the dark at all times. That is until an old adversary from Bilko's past (Phil Hartman as Maj. Thorn) pops up and tries to take revenge for a past incident. Yeah that's it.

The entire gist behind the character of Bilko is essentially that he's a trickster. He's dodgy, a gambler, obsessed with money, untrustworthy around money, and tries to get out of work whenever possible. He spends most of his time in the motor pool trying to get rich quick with various dubious schemes, or simply avoiding work of any kind. Either he works his ruses or he'll get his men to do the dirty work for him. All the while he attempts to pull the wool over his superiors eyes (Col. Hall), or other officials, or visitors, or other soldiers from other units, or his own men. Whichever way he can successfully squeeze money outta someone or something.

'What's that?!'
'That's horseshit Sir'

Truth be told this movie is pretty much one long collection of sketches, one after another showcasing Martin and co pulling off swindles. Luckily this is relatively enjoyable as what we get is amusing in a very very soft and light-hearted manner. Bilko's troops are a stereotypically raucous bunch with all the cliches firmly in place. You have the big dumb soldier, the big fat soldier, the Latino soldier, a token female soldier, a token black soldier, the Italian American type soldier, and the new transfer who's initially a real jobsworth that eventually warms up to Bilko's antics (of course). Surprisingly the only thing missing was a token gay character for some cheeky gags.

Dan Aykroyd's Col. Hall is the gentle, bumbling, innocent military officer who is completely oblivious to Bilko's hoodwinking...in part. He does seem to be somewhat aware of the fact Bilko is up to no good; but in general he is duped quite often without even realising. I think Phil Hartman's Maj. Thorn sums up Hall perfectly when he calls him a rube. As for Maj. Thorn he is the stereotypically cartoonish villain that could easily be from a Simpsons episode. The mannerisms for both of these characters are very much over the top, larger than life, but it does work for the movie. Both actors are very good at what they do and its very enjoyable to watch them overact here. Hartman clearly relished being this stuck-up villainous asshole.

'What was that?!'
'A greyhound Sir'

The real enjoyment comes from the montages where we see Bilko and his men in full swing with all their various scams, games and skiving. These range from a cleverly disguised casino in the garage. Roller hockey tournaments and strength contests between fat soldier Doberman and a horse. Using military funds for various other non-military ventures, having wild parties with booze and hookers, playing golf, fixing audits etc...Its all very silly, very childish and highly unrealistic of course, but its supposed to be. Indeed where as some of the things they get up to are just plain daft and make your eyes roll; other things are quite clever with some nice visual trickery.

At the same time, due to Bilko not ever training his men, they are all useless at actually being soldiers. Once Thorn gets his teeth into them we get the obligatory training montage where we see how crap and unfit all these guys are at military type stuff. Again its all very silly, predictable and cliched, you can see what's coming a good country mile away. Cue lots of visual gags surrounding Doberman the fat soldier. There is also a subplot involving Bilko always trying to get married to his sweetheart but never quite managing to get their on time. Basically he's scared to take the plunge and somehow gets out of it by challenging his fiancée to a game of cards when he turns up late to the alter. She is also addicted to gambling it seems. This entire subplot feels really unnecessary and crowbarred in frankly. It brings the movie to a grinding halt every time, its clearly in there for the romance factor.

Steve Martin is admittedly on good form here, he manages to map his off the wall comedic style (taming it for a family audience) onto a classic character from the 50's very well. Most of the laughs do come from Martin and his somewhat camp physical performance, quips and defiance of the rules. The fit is a surprisingly good one along with Aykroyd, Hartman and some of the soldier actors. The main plot involving the production of the hover tank is a quirky one for sure. It is fun watching Thorn trying to find a way to nail Bilko and get his revenge, only to end up being tricked by Bilko yet again. Naturally this is all predictable just like the rest of the movie, but its pleasing enough.

The problem here is the movie just isn't consistent, its very patchy, fun in parts but generally very tame and very infantile. Overall its a very very safe movie; it doesn't take too many risks, its not rude or vulgar, it basically goes down a well trodden path. A very laid back movie, with no controversial content, for a lazy afternoon or evening where you just wanna relax and giggle at some nonsense.

Other reviews of this film: tbondrage99 (7/10) > Display all


Back to Hubbs's MOVIE REVIEWS