Film Review

Arthur Hiller’s Silver Streak

Is this what was considered funny in the 70’s? Because it felt lukewarm, awkward and stretched over a super long runtime to me. Don’t get me wrong I love Gene Wilder with all my heart and Richard Pryor is cool too but if Silver Streak is any kind of barometer as to what their comedic pairing in cinema back then is all about (this is my first one) then, well… meh. Wilder plays a mild mannered businessman on a long distance rail trip who gets unwittingly yanked into all sorts of espionage shenanigans involving a femme fatale (Jill Clayburgh), a malevolent Bond type villain (Patrick McGoohan), a boisterous undercover federal agent (Ned Beatty) and many others aboard the speeding train, all of them looking for some sort of highly incriminating McGuffin object that we never really see. Pryor himself doesn’t even show up until at least halfway through the film playing a rowdy petty thief who is proud of his vocation (“I’m a thief” lol) and sort of forms an uneasy alliance with Wilder to outwit all these competing forces. That sounds like a ton of fun, right? Not so much. It all just comes across as awkward, weirdly paced and WAY too long, this is a brisk 90 minute comedy posing as a two hour big budget thing that just doesn’t have the juice to fill that runtime with enough to keep us occupied. There’s a jarring sequence where Wilder gets done up in blackface, *with* Pryor’s assistance no less, and get coached in jive turkey talk as some harebrained disguise gimmick, but it’s only really in the film as a shtick to serve itself and makes no logical or comedic sense whatsoever. Now I know this was the 70’s and comedy was a lot different back then, and I’m the last one to ruffle my feathers over stuff like that but time period aside it just feels lame, awkward and unnecessary, with both actors making painfully embarrassing asses of themselves. There is one scene that genuinely made me laugh hard, in which a frazzled Wilder frantically tries to explain his predicament to a dozy small town sheriff (Clifton James) who simply cannot wrap his mind around the complexities of a multi-character spy dilemma unfolding in real time. This part is genuinely hilarious and shows some spark but it was the only instance of that for me. The film is packed with recognizable faces including Fred Willard, Scatman Crothers, Ray Walston, Richard Kiel and more, none of whom make very vivid or memorable impressions. This just felt like a misfire to me overall, with two actors who I know to be surefire winners most of the time that just sort of flatline here in oddly conceived skits, a hopelessly cluttered and not particularly engaging caper that just feels like a lot of sitting on a train, running around and then more sitting on the train without much that kept me entertained. Check out the sheriff’s station scene over on YouTube though, it’s a hoot.

-Nate Hill

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: