Every generation has its signature comedy pairings. You’ve got Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, the Marx brothers, Harold and Kumar, Cheech & Chong, the Wayans bros, Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, Chris Farley and David Spade, etc. One of the comedy pairs that kids from my generation may not be as familiar with is Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder. Everyone knows the two apart, whether it’s Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka or Richard Pryor for his stand-up (as well as his film career), but unless you were alive in the 70’s and 80’s and old enough to remember the series of films that Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder made together, you’re likely not familiar with their long partnership simply because few of these films have really stood the test of time. I’m a cinephile so I’ve always known about these movies (there was a stretch where at least one of their buddy films was on at least one of the HBO/Cinemax channels at any given time), but I had never actually watched one before. Lo and behold, my master list for this blog puts their very first movie together, 1976’s Silver Streak, as the next film on my instant queue for Netflix, and while it wasn’t a great buddy action comedy film (and went long stretches of time without ever making me laugh), it was still an entertaining ride into the beginning of one of Hollywood’s most unorthodox pairings.

On a routine two night train ride to his sister’s wedding, George Caldwell (Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory‘s Gene Wilder), a mild-mannered editor for a book publisher, meets the beautiful Hilly (Jill Clayburn), a secretary for a reclusive author on his way to Chicago to give a presentation on the artist Rembrandt. George and Hilly hit it off and when the pair return to George’s compartment to close out the evening, their romantic rendezvous is interrupted when George sees a corpse fall off the train through the compartment’s windows. He convinces himself that he is just seeing things, but the next morning when he looks at the dust jacket of Hilly’s boss’s book, George realizes that was the man who was murdered. Before George knows it, he finds himself drawn into a dangerous investigation of a gangster art dealer, and when an undercover federal agent on the train is murdered trying to help George, George must enlist the help of smooth thief Grover (Richard Pryor) to save his new girlfriend and bring justice to this murderer.

This movie is billed as an action comedy though it is mostly light on either for healthy portions of the film. It ends with such a ridiculously over-the-top shoot-out and explosive set piece that the ending almost seems out of place in this otherwise lighthearted film. Similarly, the laughs don’t come nearly often enough to make up for it not being especially fast moving. The film is nearly 2 hours long and I counted only one moment in the entire film where I legitimately began to laugh out loud. I had some light chuckles here and there, but only one moment where I felt as if the film was really tickling my funny bone. It wasn’t that the film was boring. It certainly always kept my attention. Gene Wilder’s Cheshire cat grin and everyman charm kept me invested in his character (it’s always weird seeing him in grown-up roles and cursing because it permanently ruins Willy Wonka forever). Similarly, Richard Pryor doesn’t show up until nearly half-way through the film but his comedic chemistry with Gene Wilder is magic. The jokes and gags they have scripted don’t always work in this particular film but you can see just how easily and smoothly they come together as a team and the film instantly picks up when Pryor’s effervescent energy enters the equation.

I’ll keep this review short because this wasn’t exactly the most substantive movie I’ve watched. If you liked buddy cop films like Lethal Weapon, you’ll get lesser kicks out of Silver Streak. I’ve certainly watched less engaging films for this blog, but I always wonder how exactly films like this end up on my list here. I want to know what was so award-worthy about them (in this case Gene Wilder was nominated for a Golden Globe). Regardless, if you’re a fan of either of these actors, this was the beginning of a beautiful friendship (to paraphrase Casablanca).

Final Score: B-

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