It’s hard to speak no evil about See No Evil, Hear No Evil, the third on-screen collaboration between Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder. It bears the stench of missed opportunity. Trapped inside its overwritten crime story is a breezy character study starring two men with genuine chemistry and a flair for both physical and verbal comedy. In the rare moments when Pryor and Wilder simply talk to each other, there’s the potential for a funny and poignant interracial two-hander like I’m Not Rappaport. It’s too bad that potential is squandered on a senseless murder plot.
Pryor plays Wally Karue, a blind man who constantly tries to hide his blindness. He gets a job working at a newsstand run by Wilder’s Dave Lyons, a deaf man who shares Wally’s misguided pride about his affliction. The duo do a fair job masking their missing abilities: Dave reads lips and Wally is a pro at commandeering his other senses for navigational purposes. Together, they complete one another, a dependency made palatable by the realistic friendship vibe Wilder and Pryor create on screen.
The actors are so credible together that one forgives a lot in this movie. A fight scene between Wally and some bar bullies could have easily ended with Dave punching out the guys himself, but we’d be robbed of the sheer joy of watching these guys work through a conjoined piece of physical slapstick. Later, when their attempt to impersonate European doctors goes spectacularly awry, the two work off each other so well it saves a poorly written scene. Pryor’s fake accent is a delicious cross between the Swedish Chef and the neighborhood wino from his stand-up routines.