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New ‘Sgt. Bilko’ Gang Way Short Of ‘Phil Silvers Show’

Fri., March 29, 1996, midnight

Since Baby Boomers comprise the majority of decision makers in Hollywood, movies naturally reflect their nostalgia for the television programs of their youth.

The result: updated versions of “The Flintstones,” “Maverick,” “The Fugitive,” “Casper,” “Dragnet,” “The Twilight Zone,” “The Little Rascals,” “The Brady Bunch,” “The Addams Family” and more.

Coming up: “Mission: Impossible,” “The Saint,” “My Favorite Martian,” “The Jetsons” and “Flipper.”

So far nobody has had the chutzpah to attempt redos of such indelible classics as “I Love Lucy,” “The Honeymooners” or “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

But now Universal Pictures is offering “Sgt. Bilko,” a 1990s version of the 1955-59 series originally called “You’ll Never Get Rich” and then “The Phil Silvers Show.”

With his outsized glasses and constant patter, Silvers was the perfect picture of a carnival con man - except he was operating within the U.S. Army, conscripting a group of misfits to take part in moneymaking schemes that outraged the brass.

Steve Martin inherits the Bilko role in this glossy new comedy, which produces mixed results.

Master Sgt. Ernie Bilko runs the motor pool at Fort Baxter as his private fiefdom. His enterprises include leasing out the Army’s trucks to private operators, operating a fully equipped casino and conducting lotteries. A loyal band of followers helps carry out his scams.

If the dense Col. Hall (Dan Aykroyd) is aware of Bilko’s shenanigans, he gives no indication. All he knows is that the sergeant seems to get things done, however shadily.

There is love in Bilko’s life: Rita Robbins (Glenne Headly), the most patient marriage candidate since Adelaide in “Guys and Dolls.” She has been left at the altar so many times her wedding dress is in tatters.

Menace comes to Fort Baxter in the guise of Maj. Thorn (Phil Hartman). He was duped by Bilko 15 years earlier and lusts for revenge. The Pentagon has sent Thorn to the base to investigate delays in an experimental tank. Thorn’s goal is to expose Bilko’s larcenies and shut down the base.

The climax comes with the test run of the tank before a crowd of dignitaries. Will Bilko and his gang save the day? Of course.

Steve Martin is the ideal choice to sub for Phil Silvers’ snake-oil salesman in uniform. He is glib, sneaky and ever confident. Aykroyd doesn’t quite capture Paul Ford’s dim-bulb colonel, but he makes a good straight man.

Hartman, the most subtle of comedy actors, is perfect as the nasty Thorn. With her limp eyes and Marilyn Monroe voice, Headly contributes mightily.

What’s lacking is the mad band of Bilko followers who made “The Phil Silvers Show” such a hoot. They were seasoned burlesque and night club comics with exquisite timing. The new bunch are good actors, but without that vital touch of insanity. The laughs are sparse and often telegraphed.

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: “SGT. BILKO” Locations: Lincoln Heights, Lyons and Coeur d’Alene cinemas Credits: Directed by Jonathan Lynn Running time: 1:32 Rating: PG

This sidebar appeared with the story: “SGT. BILKO” Locations: Lincoln Heights, Lyons and Coeur d’Alene cinemas Credits: Directed by Jonathan Lynn Running time: 1:32 Rating: PG



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