Last week the great Gene Wilder died at the age of 83. Whilst the news was upsetting, I have to admit that a part of me thought he was already dead. Plus, in the ensuing days it really showed me that my ability to differentiate between Gene Wilder and Gene Hackman was sorely lacking. I lost count of the number of times I confused those two. Now, when a colleague mentioned the news the other day she referred to it as “the death of Willy Wonka”. Now, because I never miss a chance to argue with people, I declared this as being an insult to an actor with so much talent. What of his work with Mel Brooks and his films with Richard Pryor? Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka is iconic, no doubt, but he is more than that. Besides, I don’t think I’ve ever really liked Wilder’s interpretation of the owner of the world famous chocolate factory. I’m fucking stubborn and it didn’t fit with my idea of the book. Still, Wilder was a phenomenal performer and probably had a huge impact on many people’s childhoods. I even considered reviewing it for this post. However, I’ve always been a bit freaked out by that one fucking creepy scene on the boat and didn’t want to go through it again. Like the well-adjusted adult that I am. I also think, as adaptations go, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory isn’t as good as it could have been. As such, I’ve never been the biggest fan. So I turned to the ever reliable Netflix to see what alternatives I could find. Turns out, not many. Now, if I was a person with more time and less laziness I would have gone down the Mel Brooks route. Unfortunately, I’m not that person. Instead I’m the kind of gal that will pick one of his shitty comedies because of how easy it is to watch.
On paper See No Evil, Hear No Evil had huge potential for an 80s comedy film: Wally Krue, a blind man, gets a job at a newsstand working with the deaf Dave Lyons. Both men try their hardest to hide their disability and get by using their other senses. Dave manages by reading lips whilst Wally has learnt how to get around using his hearing. Clearly, when the pair come together they find each other making up for their own limitations and the way is left open for some incredible moments of hilarity. There are plenty of situations that the pair could have got themselves into to provide the audience with a laugh. The film had the makings of a fantastically silly comedy where two men come to terms with their own issues thanks to their new friendship.
Of course, See No Evil, Hear No Evil is not that kind of film. No, it was decided that the best thing to do with Wally and Dave is to get them mixed up in a shitty murder plot. Inspirational. When Wally’s bookie turns up a the newsstand demanding money he ends up being killed by a mysterious lady with great legs (Joan Severance). Thanks to their respective disabilities neither Wally or Dave are able to describe the killer and, thus, become implicated in the crime. Cue many repetitive moments where nobody remembers that you need to look at Dave for him to understand you. Meanwhile, it turns out the bookie was working with a couple of criminals to steal a coin, which is actual fact a microchip or some shit… not that it fucking matters that you know that. Great legs and her sidekick, a young, British-accented Kevin Spacey, follow the pair in order to retrieve their loot. Cut to many classic capers where the pair escape, get captured and escape again before making their way to the final showdown in a huge house in the middle of nowhere. This film has it all: a blind car chase; a kidnapped sister; mistaken identity; fake European accents; and angry guard dogs.
With that list I’d suggest that the plot is just your standard, paint by numbers 80s action/crime/comedy but that seems really unfair to other films of that decade. There’s nothing about the story that seems to have been put there to interest you. The narrative is patchy and the script is mostly awful. There are a few nice touches here and there but the majority of the stuff is just uninspiring guff. The only thing that makes this film even remotely successful is the partnership between its two main stars. See No Evil was Wilder and Pryor’s third outing together and they show the great chemistry that had made them such a hit with audiences before. The scenes in which the two are just talking are fantastic. It’s just a shame that they are over with so quickly. Clearly the director believed we didn’t want sentiment but an endless stream of mindless nonsense… which is fucking insane.
See No Evil, Hear No Evil is hardly the worst film of its kind, especially when it comes to the 80s, but, considering who was starring in it and the exciting premise, it should have been better. Rather than being a clever comedy that uses the interesting dynamic between its two main characters, it settles down to be a cheap and easy comedy-crime caper. I wouldn’t exactly say that I wish I hadn’t seen or heard this film (because that would be both incorrect and vomit-inducing) but I wish I’d watched one of the better Pryor and Wilder pairings. The films boats an excessive 5 writers, including Wilder himself, so maybe that explains why the See No Evil script feels so disjointed. It’s like a patchwork quilt where the plots of several films all sewn together in a manner than was only just workable with various embellishments thrown in from several different people. It’s the kind of quilt you’d love because it was handmade but would definitely hide in you spare room so you didn’t ever have to see it. The film very often doesn’t make sense and logic is easily replaced with lame gags. I’d be okay with it if it was funny enough to make up for it but it’s just not. This film fails on nearly every count. Although, despite all of this criticism, it’s a great film to watch if you want to remember just how fucking awesome Gene Wilder is. It’s not many actors that could star in such shit and still make it work for them.