In "Another You" (citywide), co-stars Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder are showcased as if they were one of the movies' great comedy teams--even though they've only appeared together three times previously.
A transparent marketing gimmick? Not entirely.
Pryor and Wilder do have something special when they interact--though, maddeningly, they rarely get to exploit it fully. Here, their roles are thin but tailor-made. Pryor plays a funky street con artist and Wilder a gentle but obsessive pathological liar who's just out of the asylum, two fantasists plunged into a bizarre Beverly Hills swindle.
It's a plot full of double meanings, double appearances, lies upon lies and it climaxes with Wilder hugging his co-lead for a snapshot while holding up a sign that reads "Partners Forever." Obviously, this moment has little to do with the story. It's a kind of public statement of affection and allegiance from Wilder to Pryor and there's something almost touching about it: a little charge of emotion that the movie itself hasn't really earned.
None of the previous Pryor-Wilder movies were comedy classics; their best chance was the futile attempt by Mel Brooks, who in 1973 wanted to pair them in "Blazing Saddles."
And this one isn't blazing comedy either--though the elements certainly are here. "Another You" has the cast, the look, the sound, the rhythm, the pace. It may even have the director: Maurice Phillips, who replaced Peter Bogdanovich. But it doesn't have the stuff inside.
Producer-writer Ziggy Steinberg's script is like a stone tied around the movie's neck that sinks it, despite all those gaudy, glossy balloons pulling it up.
This comedy about swindles comes across like snappy, empty patter itself. It keeps nervously cutting to the chase, leaping from one sell point to another: a wild fit or pseudo-macho restaurant gig from Wilder, dirty-mouth routines for Pryor, villain Stephen Lang grabbing his scenes like a bulldog on a bone, some Vanessa Williams walk-ons handled as if they were a photo shoot and a chase through a beer factory. There's even a yodeling exhibition in a restaurant for Wilder and Mercedes Ruehl, who plays the wife of a missing billionaire (a look-alike for Wilder, hence the "Another You" scam). So frenetic is the shtick that Ruehl walks off with the first-half acting honors by a simple strategy: She acts as if everything around her is ridiculous.
Scene by scene, the movie never seems too bad. Phillips ("Riders of the Storm") keeps the staging lively and Victor Kemper's lighting is warm and crisp. But, as an assemblage, it falls apart.
No one but an idiot could have conceived the central swindle at the story's core, and no one but a pack of idiots could have been swindled by it. The movie's sense of logic is like the Abe Lincoln hat (the symbol of truth) that gets knocked off Wilder's head in the opening scenes: crushed quickly and forgotten.
Still, there's something appealing about the interplay between the stars: Pryor's frailer but still potent hipsterism and Wilder's cadenzas of neurosis. That's their chemistry. In the classic schema of movie comedy teams, Pryor is the smoothie and Wilder is the hysteric. That seems to make Pryor the Abbott to Wilder's Costello, Burns to his Allen, Martin to his Lewis, Groucho to his Harpo.
But, here as elsewhere, their roles never stay straight; they bleed into each other. Pryor is a bent smoothie, with an edge of inner panic, while nobody can structure and control hysteria quite like Gene Wilder: his flip-outs are like fencing displays.
In "Another You," (MPAA rated R for language) their scenes together have a very relaxed, effortless feel, even at their goofiest, and Pryor's more delicate persona brings out something poignant in Wilder. Whether they're partners forever or not, it's nice to imagine they feel that way, that they want to keep a tradition of teamwork alive.
Eddie Dash: Richard Pryor
George/Abe: Gene Wilder
Elaine/Mimi: Mercedes Ruehl
Rupert Dibbs: Stephen Lang
A Tri-Star Pictures presentation of a Ziggy Steinberg production. Director Maurice Phillips. Producer/Screenplay Ziggy Steinberg. Executive producer Ted Zachary. Cinematographer Victor Kemper. Editor Dennis M. Hill. Costumes Ruth Myers. Music Charles Gross. Production design Dennis Washington. Art director John P. Bruce. Set designer Richard McKenzie. Set decorator Robert R. Benton. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.
MPAA-rated R (Language.)