Sgt. Bilko Reviews
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.
[i]'That's horseshit Sir'[/i]
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 [i]Simpsons[/i] 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.
[i]'What was that?!'[/i]
[i]'A greyhound Sir'[/i]
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.
Iâ??m sure that whatever comedic material in The Phil Silvers Show is significantly different than that of Sgt. Bilko since the film feels more like a Steve Martin star vehicle than an adaptation of any other comedic material, and all in all, the film is hit and miss.
Although Sgt. Bilko isnâ??t a boring film, it is fairly far from original. While it has an interesting comedic concept and some wacky characters, it is at best a sporadically funny comedy. The script has its moments, but overall is fairly bland and lacking in comedic originality. While the actors manage to deliver the script with relaxed and easy comedic charm, the film itself is not built on many successful humourous roots and leaves them to fend for themselves in this battle. But the battle ends up being a draw as Sgt. Bilko was a half decent movie, and the other half a little too stupid for the tastes of me and many other people.
The success of the film rests largely on the dedication of the actors to the material and the visual elements of the film while faltering in other areas, predominantly the writing. While Sgt. Bilko has some funny moments, it has a few too many characters and not much of a strong story to go in the direction of. I mean the entire romantic subplot of the film was merely a distraction from the main plot and added nothing to the characters and no laughs to the story. It just got in the way of things and made the experience a more tedious and unoriginal one which it already was to a certain extent. Sgt. Bilko wallows through a lack of originality for 94 minutes and much of the time it wastes itself on an unnecessary romantic subplot instead of on Sgt. Bilko himself and his relationship with his soldiers. Essentially, the focus in Sgt. Bilko is constantly shifting and never really keeps to one story dynamic and attempts to cover more ground than it can handle which ends up rendering it less comedically successful than it could have been.
But ignoring all that, Sgt. Bilko does have its moments. Admittedly I didnâ??t laugh too much but I enjoyed the relaxed nature of the film in its complicated context and enjoyed the charm of its colourful energy.
From a visual perspective, Sgt. Bilko has a really thoroughly convincing military setting which makes the context of the story feel more genuine and get played out to a more successful comedic effect. The setting and scenery is very appealing and is all captured nicely with some strong cinematography, and the colour palette of the film is bright as well. Essentially, the visual appeal of Sgt. Bilko is effective and makes it an easy film to view. It is the kind of film to watch when there is nothing to do on Sunday and the film is just playing on TV. I wouldnâ??t say that Sgt. Bilko is worth going out of your way to see, but if its there it wouldnâ??t hurt to check it out because it is a simple and relaxed experience with a fairly good soundtrack too. So from a technical perspective, Sgt. Bilko doesnâ??t have any flaws and it has some memorable imagery such as a horse suspended in the roof of a warehouse and a hover tank.
The only consistently successful element of Sgt. Bilko is the cast which manage to making a refreshing effort with the exception of Gleanne Headley whose generic female character was simply annoying. It isnâ??t her fault though, it is the fault of the writers for putting her character in.
Steve Martin manages to perfectly embody the titular role of Sgt. Bilko for every second of the film. Thanks to his natural comedic skills as an actor, he manages to put a lot of charisma into the role and ensure that although the film is simply a star vehicle for him, that it was a good idea to cast him. As Sgt. Bilko he manages to make the role convincing due to his swift and sharp line delivery and ability to interact with the cast in a manner that seems impulsive and yet well thought through at the same time. Steve Martin makes the character convincingly effective at getting himself in and out of all kinds of crazy situations due to his natural comedic charisma, and it reminds audiences just how funny he is even when working with insufficient material. He breathes plenty of life into Sgt. Bilko and makes it more enjoyable to watch
While Phil Hartman isnâ??t the best choice for an antagonist because he doesnâ??t have too much of an aggressive nature, for a Steve Martin comedy he manages to do the job with ease and delivers his lines with a sense of natural annoyance at the character Sgt. Bilko. He plays the antagonist of the story with ease, and while it isnâ??t his finest effort it is good to see the late actor working with Steve Martin as the two make an enjoyable comedic duo.
Dan Akroyd is also a good cast member to have on board due to the nature of his past as a comedic actor and the easy nature of his performance and chemistry with Steve Martin. His line delivery is confident and swift, and when he engages with Steve Martin it is quite entertaining.
Chris Rock is also a good presence because of how he would later go on to experience massive comedic success in film and television.
So Sgt. Bilko is not worth going out of your way for because it is only a sporadically funny comedy which wallows in comparison to the successful source material that inspired it, but fans of Steve Martin should hopefully be pleased with it due to his charismatic and fun lead performance in the titular role.
Times get tough however, when the base is threatened with a shutdown, and a by-the-book adversary, Major Thorn (Phil Hartman), is intent on taking Bilko's reputation down with it. Now, all bets are on Bilko to drum up his biggest scheme yet to save Fort Baxter ... and clear his name!
also stars Dan Aykroyd, Glenne Headly, Daryl Mitchell, Max Casella, Russell Bobbit, Clifton Collins Jr. and Cheryl Francis.
directed by Jonathan Lynn.