The 80's is often the decade that people forget. People tend to think that the 80's were only about tacky fashion (which they were) and that nothing of any worth came out of that period. However there was a lot of great music and certainly a lot of great movies. 'Stir Crazy' always used to be one I held up as an example of a lost great - "Hey, Stir Crazy is soooo underrated" - I'd often cry at parties. It never struck me however that I hadn't watched it in over ten years - and then I did. Boy does my memory suck.Harry and Skip (Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder) are an out of work actor and writer respectively. After losing their latest fill-in jobs they wind up working as giant chickens promoting a bank. After a gang of crooks rob the bank using their costumes however, they end up in prison where the governor is ignoring their protestations of innocence in favour of using Skip for his rodeo contest.
The best comedies are those that are graceful and confident in their own material and ability to make people laugh. It doesn't matter if it's a spoof like 'Airplane!', a farce like 'Some Like It Hot' or something off-the-wall like 'The 'burbs', if the director/writer is confident that the material is going to work, good things will generally happen.
This confidence is severely lacking here however. There's nothing particularly funny about the concept about innocent men going to prison ('The Shawshank Redemption' was hardly laugh-a-minute stuff was it?), so the film sorely needs a funny script to fall back on. It doesn't however. Just count the amount of memorable one-liners here. It won't take you long. There's a mildly funny confrontation with a couple of rednecks in a bar and a repeat of the scene with a huge, terrifying prisoner, but apart from that it's a distinctly laugh-free zone. Maybe I'm being picky but I generally prefer my comedies to be more than 'mildly funny'.
Instead of laughs or jokes, we just get bizarre scenes of wacked-out weirdness, off-kilter performances that are more distracting than amusing, and a rodeo contest between prisons. Aren't you smiling at that concept already? So we get moments where Pryor and Wilder will walk a bit funny for a while. Or Wilder will make kung-fu noises for no reason. But do it for an insanely annoying amount of time. Or Wilder will prance around in front of the guards while Pryor shrieks like a gibbon. Would-be comics should note that screaming something unfunny loudly, or in a funny way does not automatically make it any more amusing.
Wilder and Pryor are both funny guys, but are woefully served by the material here. Wilder in particular has an annoying wacky manner throughout the film.
By the end, the film is so forced for laughs/interest of any kind that it crams the rodeo show sub-plot in with an escape attempt and a love angle for Wilder and JoBeth Williams who just appears out of nowhere. This schizophrenic end is indicative of the films lack of confidence with itself. Why is there a rodeo show? Who knows, and more importantly, who cares.A little known fact about 'Stir Crazy' is that it's directed by Sidney Poitier. Here are two slightly more well-known facts: he rarely directs anymore, which is no big surprise. And 'Stir Crazy' is actually quite shit.