SGT. BILKO faced disciplinary action in 1996, skidding into spot #52, grossing under $38,000,000, a Sergeant Major bomb in that it cost a million more than that to produce. Directed by Jonathan Lynn, written by Andy Breckman, it was the second of Steve Martin’s mixed-success reworkings of classic material. This time was updating The Phil Silvers Show, an Emmy-winning Ike-Era TV hardy that had Silvers glib Army noncom wheel & deal through 143 episodes, 1955-59. *
US Army ‘Master Sergeant Ernest G. Bilko’ (Steve) runs the base at Fort Baxter, his motor pool platoon of misfits and sharpies serving Uncle Sam by scamming everyone for everything (like…Uncle Sam), to the benign neglect of superior officers, until hardcase ‘Maj. Colin Thorn’ (Phil Hartman) shows up with a grudge to settle.
The cast work it adamantly, and there are numerous chuckles and a few guffaws, but overall it reeks of a one-take force-feed, and before its enlistment hitch enters short-time, you’re ready to desert. The old series had chutzpah charm; this, fittingly for its own time, goes for smarm. Best watched at 1:00 a.m., with some high-school pals, through a cloud of bong hits and a slick of Tequila shots (this has been done, reliable sources tell us).
94 minutes, with Dan Aykroyd, Daryl Mitchell, Glenn Headly, John Marshall Jones, Pamela Adlon, Austin Pendleton, Chris Rock, Steve Park, Cathy Silvers, Max Casella, Eric Edwards.
* National treasure Martin basically did/does what George Clooney, Matt Damon and a few others do: pay bills with schlock in order to risk loss on personal projects. Before Sgt. Bilko came an update of Father Of The Bride. Then followed rehashes of Cheaper By The Dozen and The Pink Panther. All bore sequels. The up-side was Steve on target in Leap Of Faith, The Spanish Prisoner, Bowfinger and Shopgirl. There’s more than one way to twang a banjo.