SGT. BILKO is a highly forgettable, but quite funny remake of the
classic Phil Silvers TV show from the mid 50s known variously as "The
Phil Silvers Show", "You'll Never Get Rich", and simply "Sergeant
Bilko." I was a nine year old when the series started and was a fan of
it. Only Steve Martin and possibly Robin Williams have the comedic
strength to revive the show. Here it is Steve Martin playing the role
that is both a homage to Phil Silvers and yet is a fresh rendition as
well. In short, this is not Martin at his best and the movie has a lot
of gags, especially sight gags, that don't work, but the movie does has
a lot of belly laughs in it. A sure fire audience pleaser even if not
exactly blockbuster material.
I think this movie has some of the worst trailers for it that I
have seen in quite a while, but I saw them so often that this slapstick
comedy began to grow on me a bit before I ever walked into the theater.
The movie has exactly three things going for it and no more. The
acting by Martin, that of straight man Dan Aykroyd playing Sgt. Bilko's
Col. Hall, and the script by Andy Breckman. The rest of the acting is
fairly pedestrian but Phil Hartman as Major Thorn as well as his two
accountant sidekicks are awful. Most of the technical aspects of the
show like the cinematography, music, and sets are acceptable, but
nothing special. The directing by Jonathan Lynn is minimal.
Sgt. Bilko runs the motor pool at Fort Baxter, but spends most of
his time gambling and conning soldiers out of their money. His
philosophy about gambling is, "I like a sporting event in which I know
the outcome ahead of time. It's more organized." He does not run a
very tight ship. His troops ignore bugle call, and do not get up until
he announces, "Let's go campers. It's 10am. Time to start the day."
In the funniest part of the show, Sgt. Bilko tells his group a story
about how he once fixed a fight, but the wrong fighter was paid off
before the fight started. The outcome is hilarious.
Major Thorn, cute name that, has an old grudge against Sgt. Bilko,
and the plot of most of the show is that Major Thorn tries to prove a
case against Bilko. The major allows as how "catching Bilko is hard as
nailing Jell-O to the wall." Bilko is a conniver, but also a whiner.
He tells soldiers that, "I'm paralyzed from the hair down. Make the
bad man stop."
Glenne Headly (MR. HOLLAND'S OPUS and DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS)
plays Bilko's girlfriend Rita Robbins. Rita is constantly getting
conned by Bilko as well and sees it as an education saying, "I have a
masters in manipulation from the University of Bilko." Bilko himself
claims he has always had modest needs. He tells Col. Hall that "All
I've ever wanted was an honest week's pay for an honest day's work."
Everything that Martin does is cute right down to the way he carries
himself and his funny little quasi-mocking salute.
SGT. BILKO runs a quick 1:32 thanks to fast paced editing by Tony
Lombardo. I was amazed to find the show was a correctly rated PG one.
I expected something much raunchier. There is no sex, nudity, or
violence. If they said any bad words, I can not remember them. We
should have brought our son Jeffrey (almost 7) as their was a five year
old behind us who was laughing a lot and gave the show a thumbs up.
SGT. BILKO is not great art, but I laughed a lot as did the rest of the
audience, and I think you will too so I recommend the film and give the
picture ** 1/2.
Copyright © 1996 Steve Rhodes