Review: Sgt. Bilko

DVD: Sgt. Bilko (1996)

It’s always going to be difficult when attempting to remake/reboot/reimagine a beloved movie and/or character, especially one as iconic as Sgt. Ernie Bilko, played in the original 1950’s television series by Phil Silvers. I have fond memories of sitting with my dad watching Silvers bark out orders at his ragtag platoon of soldiers, accompanied by my dad doing an impression of him which always had me in fits of laughter.

So, can Steve Martin fill Bliko’s boots and elict as many laughs from me as Silvers did all those years ago?

Sgt. Ernie Bilko is more interested in gambling ,gaming, sports, and generally having a good time, rather than putting his troop through the expected rigours of being a soldier. A prime example being the opening scene of the movie where Private Doberman (Eric Edwards) is playing tug of war with a horse, while the spectating soldiers bet on who is going to win. As with anything involving the transaction of money, Bilko always likes to have an advantage, no matter what it may involve.

The core of the story is a revenge tale, as a gambling mix-up at a boxing match many years ago see’s Bilko inadvertently getting fellow soldier Colin Thorn (Phil Hartman) posted to Siberia for a crime he did not commit. Upon returning to America and worked his way up the ranks to a Major, Thorn finds himself inspecting the camp where Bilko is currently stationed. Now in a position to finally get his revenge, he concocts a plan that surely the slippery Bilko can not worm his way out of. Or can he?

Steve Martin does a fine job of portraying Ernie Bilko in a way that nods to Phil Silvers performance of the character, yet at the same time not making him a carbon copy and also injecting some of Steve’s own comedy acting chops into the role.

The main support comes from Dan Aykroyd as Colonel John Hall, who managed to raise a few chuckles from me. All involved play their roles in the full knowledge that they are in a silly comedy and acting accordingly. Definitely no ‘best actor’ nominations here.

As remakes go, I have seen much worse…The Fog, I’m looking at you as one example, but I really can’t recommended Sgt. Bilko to fans of the original series. I was constantly reminded of how many belly laughs I had, and STILL have, when watching the reruns, whereas this version just had me chuckling occasionally.

However, if you’ve never seen the original series, then this could be more to your taste…especially if you enjoy silly slapstick comedy and a narrative so simple that you could go to the loo, make a cup of tea, return to the screen and still not have missed any important plot points that would get you confused.

If you’re new to the character and/or have kids aged 6-12, then give it a go as you may well enjoy it. For fans of the Phil Silvers original, approach with caution.

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Review by Dave (host of 60 Minutes With) from a disc kindly supplied by Fabulous Films.