Film Review: See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989)
High concept comedies need more than high concept to work, even with talented comedians in starring roles. That is conclusion you might get if you watch See No Evil, Hear No Evil, 1989 film directed by Arthur Hiller.
The protagonists are two men with serious disabilities. Walter “Wally” Karew (played by Richard Pryor) is blind while David “Dave” Lyons (played by Gene Wilder) is deaf. They meet after Dave puts an ad for help in his concession shop, which Wally answers. One day a man comes to a shop and removes gold coin from suitcase before being shot by beautiful woman named Eve (played by Joan Severance). Due to their respective conditions, both Dave and Wally didn’t witness the murder but they can remember details about woman – Dave can recognise her legs, while Wally can remember her perfume. However, police is convinced that two of them actually committed murder and they get arrested. Determined to clear their name, Dave and Wally escape from custody and start looking for evidence that might exonerate them, but Eve and her henchman Kirgo (played by Kevin Spacey) also look for them in order to obtain the coin.
There is a long tradition of humour based on people’s disabilities, although in our “politically correct” times it is often considered beyond the limits of good taste. That, however, happens to be the least problematic aspect of See No Evil, Hear No Evil. Film is burdened with incredibly weak script, credited to five different writers, one of them being Wilder, who apparently agreed to star in the film only if allowed re-writes. While film starts relatively well with introduction of characters who try to deny their disabilities in comical way, it starts to go wrong with introduction of standard crime plot. Humour is weak and jokes are often replaced with silly and unconvincing action, as well as plenty of coincidences and other details that ask audience to suspend too much of its disbelief. For example, both Dave and Wally fail to witness a murder; they are both suspects by incredibly stupid police; they somehow manage to escape from police custody and somehow manage to overcome much more experienced professional killers. Near the end of the film even one of the villains is revealed to be disabled person. Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder try their best under the circumstances and have good chemistry together, but there are limits even to their talents. Only in brief moments, like when their characters impersonate doctors at the convention, their old magic is present. Almost everything else in the film is disappointing, including Kevin Spacey playing Englishman in one of early roles. On the other hand, glamorous model Joan Severance, later specialised for roles of femme fatales, appears naked in the scene that would be appreciated at least by some segments of the audience. That, however, isn’t reason enough for this film to be recommended. On the other hand, See No Evil, Hear No Evil was hardly waste of time for their stars – film, despite bad reviews, had modest success at box office and Wilder, while preparing for the role by visiting schools for hearing impaired, met and later married teacher Karen Boyer.
RATING: 4/10 (+)
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