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‘See No Evil, Hear No Evil’ (R)

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 13, 1989

In "See No Evil, Hear No Evil," a blind guy and a deaf guy witness the murder of the blind guy's bookie, are suspected of the crime and have to find the real criminals while being pursued by the police.

No introduction is given by Alistair Cooke.

The blind guy is played by Richard Pryor, the deaf guy by Gene Wilder. The two get together when Wally (Pryor) goes to work for Dave (Wilder) at his downtown Manhattan newsstand. When the crime is committed, Dave has his back turned (he is reading to the victim from a box of antacids) and sees only the killer's shapely leg as she walks away. Wally, who is on the street waiting for a delivery, gets only a whiff of her Shalimar as she brushes past him. Together, they are almost able to put together a description of the perpetrator, who as incarnated by Joan Severance is fairly well put together already.

The credits for this woolly, mostly serviceable but far from vintage comedy reveal that a whole gang of writers is potentially liable for the script, but everything memorable in it comes from the tiny, marginal bits of business contributed by the stars. These usually emerge during the film's quieter moments and not during its louder, more generic action sequences. In these scenes, Wilder and Pryor are allowed to simply work off each other, to react to each other and demonstrate their relaxed and extremely peculiar rapport. They're particularly good when trying to negotiate their way out of a jam, as, for example, when Wally poses as a Swedish gynecologist and needs to be rescued from a seminar. (Swedish for lovemaking, as Pryor interprets it, has the sound of a spring-damaged pogo stick.)

Most of the movie's choicer moments, though, belong to Wilder. One of the most naturally poetic comics in film, Wilder never hits a joke in an expected way. He toys with it, the way a cat toys with a mouse, and his style softens Pryor's approach, which is broader and (at least in his movie roles) more conventional.

Nothing that happens in "See No Evil" stands up under close examination. You do, however, manage to get some enjoyment out of it, even if it's in spite of yourself (and the director Arthur Hiller). Severance and Kevin Spacey, who plays the killer's British colleague, are a racy pair of culprits, and as routine foils go, they are a definite cut above. Considering the material, this is no mean feat. If it weren't for the good will that the stars have built up over the years, "See No Evil" would pass without notice; even with the stars, that's what it deserves. But these are ingratiating performers, even when working far below their peak. Watching them, you find yourself wanting to laugh even when the laughs are undeserved.

"See No Evil, Hear No Evil" is rated R and contains nudity, strong language and prison jokes.

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