See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989)

Posted: June 21, 2014 in Movie Review
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See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989)

Director: Arthur Hiller

Starring: Richard Pryor, Gene Wilder, Joan Severance, Kevin Spacey, Alan North, Anthony Zerbe

Ah, the summer of 1989. Several of today’s big name young stars were either babies or had yet to even be born. It was the season and year in which I first started paying great attention to theatrical releases, has always held a special place in my heart. I can still remember all the trailers, as well as all the posters for the movies I didn’t see until much later. It has taken a lot longer than it should have… 25 years (!)… but I’ve finally seen them all. It hasn’t mattered how good or bad the movies are, because the mission was merely to see everything I either missed or was too young to watch at the time. At the poorly managed theater (which is still poorly managed and is now behind the times but shall remain nameless) where I watched movies like “Ghostbusters 2,”  “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” and “Batman,” I can remember seeing “See No Evil, Hear No Evil” advertised as being in Theater #1 (out of seven). In the quarter-century since, it would not be out of the question to say that movies have been my life. I’ve always relied on two of the five senses, hearing and sight, for a more complete cinematic experience. I can’t imagine doing without either one, nor would I even want to try.

“See No Evil, Hear No Evil” is another tale of men being in the wrong place at the wrong time, becoming fugitives from the law while dodging bullets from the real bad guys, all in the name of proving their innocence. But Wally Karew (Richard Pryor) and Dave Lyons (Gene Wilder) had already fallen on hard times before they’d ever met. Wally is blind and Dave is deaf, though neither man was born with their disabilities. Dave’s ability to read lips comes in handy, especially in dealing with customers at his concession shop, where the sightless Wally has applied for a job. After the mutual misunderstandings in their first meeting, the two form a friendship, each helping to fill the missing pieces in each others’ lives. Wally helps Dave out whenever someone is speaking to him from behind and get belligerent when they don’t recieve an answer, and Dave acts as Wally’s guide wherever they travel. The real trouble comes the day that someone gets murdered at the concession shop. Dave has his back turned at the time and doesn’t hear the shot, but turns around in time to see the legs of the woman responsible. Wally, meanwhile, hears the shot from outside the shop where he is waiting for the arrival of the daily newspaper, and smells the woman’s perfume when he enters. As both are the only witnesses present, and are seen with the murder weapon, the natural assumption of the police is that they have their suspects.

Wally and Dave have two things going against them, one being that they’re the prime suspects in a murder investigation, and the other being that they have what they bad guys are looking for. Yet, even after Eve (Joan Severance)… the woman who did the shooting… takes the coin from Wally’s pocket, she and her accomplice Kirgo (Kevin Spacey) are still under orders to kill the duo just for having been witnesses. So, the chase is on, and it all eventually leads to a confrontation with the boss man himself, Mr. Sutherland (Anthony Zerbe).

The movie’s funniest scene by far is the one where Wally gets into a bar brawl, which he wins thanks to Dave instructing him on where to throw his punches. Sadly, like almost every other gag in the movie, this one is repeated until it’s no longer funny. Some aren’t even funny the first time. It’s really a shame, because it’s obvious by now in this, the third of four movies the two would do together, that they had great chemistry. (Interesting side note: Pryor and Wilder’s first movie together would have been the 1974 comedy classic “Blazing Saddles,” but Warner Bros. was squeamish about hiring Pryor based on his stand-up act.) Particularly a bummer for me is how utterly wasted Kevin Spacey is in his role. The future Oscar-winning actor deserved better than to play second fiddle to the woman who, forgive me, is only in this movie to do two things: shoot a gun, and make the men who gaze upon her shoot theirs. Anthony Zerbe’s Sutherland reminds me of Blofeld from the 1967 James Bond film “You Only Live Twice,” as played by Donald Pleasance. There’s a great deal of mystery surrounding the character, his face remaining obscured from the audience’s view for much of the movie. Like Pleasance, when Zerbe is finally revealed… that’s the moment where disappointment truly settles in, not because Zerbe isn’t a good actor, but because the idea of Sutherland is better than the reality.

There are movies for which we have some compelling need to be able to say we’ve seen them. “See No Evil, Hear No Evil” definitely fell under that category for me. Finally scratching this one off my list, I can’t say it was worth the wait. It’s more subpar than outright bad, but it does present the image of having been written by amateurs, and must be held accountable for not doing everything it can to get the best out of the talent that is present. Most of the great Hollywood actors never do seem to go out on top, and our comedians are no exception. Wilder and Pryor only had a few movies left in them after this, including their final pairing in 1991’s “Another You.” Pryor will always be best remembered for his stand-up routine, while Gene Wilder’s best moments come in the films he did with director Mel Brooks, as well as his unforgettable role as the title character in 1971’s “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” I could take this opportunity to make a joke about how “See No Evil, Hear No Evil” is better unseen and unheard, but I think that would be a bit too obvious… much like what passes for humor in the movie itself.


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