Opens: March 29, 1996 | Rated: PG
With "Sgt. Bilko," Steve Martin has returned to his movie roots -- silly and stupid and bad, instead of his more recent screen persona, silly and stupid and dad.
Fifteen years ago Martin had the enigmatic ability to be cheesy and lame, and still have people rolling in the aisles (look at "The Jerk"). But this movie is far from being Martin's triumphant return to fun, dumb comedy.
"Sgt. Bilko" is based on the late 1950s TV series of the same name that pivoted on the trademark daffiness of Phil Silvers, but the movie has no such single focus. The elements are all the same as they were in the show -- a too-clever-to-get-caught master sergeant and his platoon of misfits run a covert gambling operation on an army base -- but Martin, although funny, plays Bilko as a paint by the numbers character. He just hams through it without much effort.
The movie is saturated with stagnant, one-note performances from stagnant, one-note actors like Dan Aykroyd, as the clueless base commander, and Phil Hartman (TV's "Newsradio"), as the vengeful Lieutenant Colonel who has it in for Bilko.
The movie opens with serious a new recruit (Daryl Mitchell from "The John Larroquette Show") reporting for duty in Bilko's slacker barracks. He's introduced to the platoon's ensemble of stereotypes -- the candy-inhaling chubby guy, the dumb but friendly lummox, et al -- who help Bilko run a casino in the motor pool.
The serious recruit tries to snap the platoon into shape, but to no avail. He finds them sleeping through the bugle call on his first morning there and wakes Bilko who says, perplexed, "What's that music?"
Hartman shows up to inspect the base and investigate Bilko, who had framed him some years earlier for fixing a boxing match, and brings along fellow "Saturday Night Live" alum Chris Rock as a nerdy military accountant who is to review the motor pool's books.
The story then becomes about the personal vendetta the Lieutenant Colonel has against Bilko, and how Bilko thwarts his at every turn...and, of course, how the misfit platoon pulls together for the common cause.
"Sgt. Bilko" definitely has some moments of heavy duty laughter, many of them come from a sub-plot about the woman Bilko is supposed to marry (Glenne Headly) but he keeps forgetting to show up at the alter, but it's really just a "Saturday Night Live" sketch gone long.
In fact, with the 5-minute plot stretched to an hour and a half, the barrage of recycled jokes (hasn't the misfit platoon been done to death?) and all the former "SNL" stars, it comes as a surprise that Lorne Michaels didn't produce "Sgt. Bilko."
After all Michaels, the producer of "SNL" for 20 years, is responsible for many a big screen disaster stemming from the dying late-night show.
"Sgt. Bilko" should be on video in a matter of months, and it's really the kind of thing one rents when all the new releases are checked out anyway.
And although the movie doesn't depend much on it's TV inspiration, the original Phil Silvers series should be on Nick at Nite any day now and at least the old show brings with it a sense of Americana.
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