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Hal Hinson - Style section,
"Martin is alive with hustler energy."


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Steve Martin Is 'Sgt. Bilko'

As Bilko, Steve Martin is alive with hustler energy. Bilko's main mark is the military, which he has used for years as a front for his illicit gambling operation. And as the officer in charge of the motor pool, he also controls his own private corps of impressionable deadbeats and undesirables who, following his leadership, have become the best card sharks and chiselers they can be.

After Bilko misses his last date with his longtime fiance — he arrives using a walker — Rita runs out of patience, giving Bilko a deadline: If he doesn't put a ring on her finger in 30 days, they're through. This date — plus the efforts of an old enemy, Maj. Thorn (Phil Hartman) to have Bilko booted from the service — provides the film with the semblance of a plot. But "Sgt. Bilko" doesn't run on story, it runs on Martin's grouchy clowning. -- Hal Hinson Rated PG


Director: Jonathan Lynn
Cast: Steve Martin; Daryl Mitchell; Dan Aykroyd; Glenne Headly; Eric Edwards; Max Casella; John Ortiz; Pamela Segall; Phil Hartman
Running Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Filmographies: Steve Martin ; Dan Aykroyd







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'Sgt. Bilko': A Wild and Crazy Guile

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 29, 1996

The good thing about remaking a television series that starred Phil Silvers is that there is no way to go but up. And "Sgt. Bilko," the new service comedy based on Silvers's heroically unscrupulous master sergeant from the Nat Hiken sitcom, is a definite improvement. However, whatever gains this adaptation makes are due entirely to the inspired goofiness of its star, Steve Martin, and not to anything that director Jonathan Lynn or screenwriter Andy Breckman may have contributed.

As Bilko, Martin is alive with hustler energy. Bilko isn't simply a con man; he's truly a con artist, with a nose for government green so highly developed that he virtually vibrates in its presence. Bilko's main mark is the military, which he has used for years as a front for his illicit gambling operation. And as the officer in charge of the motor pool, he also controls his own private corps of impressionable deadbeats and undesirables who, following his leadership, have become the best card sharks and chiselers they can be.

The picture begins with the arrival of a new recruit (Daryl Mitchell). But before the base commander (Dan Aykroyd) will allow the soldier to assume his duties with the motor pool, he advises him to first hide his money in his hat. But Bilko sniffs out the hidden cash in seconds, even guessing the amount of money inside by weighing the cap in his open palm.

The sergeant can ferret out a poker game at 100 yards and even runs greyhound races and a casino on the base. Every move he makes is part of some scam. In addition, he is vain, self-centered, slothful, conniving and definitely not up to Army specifications. One morning, when a soldier wakes him up early, he hears reveil\le playing in the distance and, with a puzzled look, asks, "What's that music?"

But Bilko is also loyal to a fault. He loves his men, and no matter what he does, his crew—played by Eric Edwards, Max Casella, Pamela Segall and John Ortiz—seems to love him. So does his longtime fiance, Rita (Glenne Headly), who tolerates his outrageous schemes even though he keeps standing her up at the altar.

However, after Bilko misses their last date—he arrives using a walker—Rita runs out of patience, giving Bilko a deadline: If he doesn't put a ring on her finger in 30 days, they're through. This date—plus the efforts of an old enemy, Maj. Thorn (a solid Phil Hartman) to have Bilko booted from the service—provides the film with the semblance of a plot. But "Sgt. Bilko" doesn't run on story, it runs on Martin's grouchy clowning. Even when the jokes are weak—even when there isn't a joke—Martin's aggrieved expressions and sublime physical bits are constantly entertaining.

On the whole, the picture feels dashed off and sloppy; it looks as if it had been made in a rush to get it out. The junkiness doesn't matter much, though; instead, it seems to have relaxed Martin's inhibitions. He hasn't been wild and crazy for some time, certainly not in "Mixed Nuts" or "A Simple Twist of Fate." Here, he's wild and crazy and exuberantly, irreverently nasty. It's the funniest he's been in years.

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