Legend Films // 1981 // 97 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // June 23rd, 2008
...in some kind of mess!
Some kind of mess indeed. Some Kind of Hero is a sloppy mishmash of styles and tones, resulting in a film that tries to be many things and winds up succeeding at none of them.
In Vietnam in 1967, Cpl. Eddie Keller (Richard Pryor, Silver Streak) is captured by the Viet Cong during battle and spends the next five years imprisoned in a P.O.W. camp. Released after being forced to sign a trumped-up confession to save his cellmate Vinnie (Ray Sharkey, Wiseguy), Eddie returns home to learn that everything he had counted on when he left has been changed. Now broke, divorced, and jobless, he falls in love with high-class hooker Toni Donovan (Margot Kidder, Superman) and tries to put his life back together.
In the thirty-odd films he made throughout his career, Richard Pryor was very rarely given the chance to show his dramatic acting talent. His most highly regarded is probably Paul Schrader's Blue Collar (1978), an unrelentingly dark look at union corruption. Some Kind of Hero was another. While its grittiest parts sometimes surpass the bleakness of Collar, it's nowhere near as consistent. Pryor gives a performance that, in many ways, is better than any in his career, but is undone by a film that can't make up its mind what it wants to be.
The first 20 minutes of Hero, which consist of the scenes set in the P.O.W. camp, are by far the best scenes in the film and represent arguably Pryor's best acting of his career. These are genuinely brutal and realistic, and both the dialogue and situations ring true. Pryor's occasional moments of dark humor seem like natural outbursts rather than contrivances. Those scenes are so bold and fearless that it seems that the rest of the film can only get better.
Unfortunately, once Eddie gets back home, Hero runs off the rails. As Eddie realizes that his wife, money, and life have all abandoned him, an uncertainty begins to creep into Michael Pressman's direction. He inserts inane jokes into those scenes, and while some of the humor is admittedly amusing, it's completely inappropriate for what's supposed to be a serious study of a man attempting to reassess his life. The film, on sure footing initially, veers between melodrama and ham-fisted silliness, as if Pressman is uncertain that the audience will pay attention unless Pryor is telling jokes. Scenes where Eddie is supposed to be confronted with heartbreaking changes are too often ruined with flippancy that's wholly out of place.
It isn't just the wildly divergent tones that hurt it. Pressman's direction becomes more slipshod as the film goes along. For one thing, Some Kind of Hero really has no narrative drive or story to speak of. Eddie seemingly winds up in situations for no other reason than there's nothing better for him to do. For instance, a dramatic scene where Eddie tries to get a loan and is turned down starts promisingly, but is then interrupted by an utterly pointless bank robbery that is completely irrelevant to Eddie's situation. Later, Eddie meets Toni in a bar entirely by chance, and it seems as if the film will focus on their budding relationship, but the two barely have any scenes together, so despite Pryor and Kidder's best efforts, it's hard to understand what the nature of their relationship is. What's more, characters and situations are introduced, and then ignored. The film spends a lot of time setting up what's supposed to be a deep and bonding relationship between Eddie and Vinnie that never pays off. There's a subplot involving a daughter that Eddie may have fathered before he left that's abandoned quickly. Even the characterizations seem haphazard. For someone who is supposed to be a high-priced call girl, Toni sometimes comes off as naïve and prudish. For that matter, whatever traumas and injuries Eddie suffers during his time in captivity never seem to figure into anything that happens later. Moreover, Eddie is surprisingly incompetent with guns, considering he's supposed to be a corporal in the 101st Airborne. One scene, where he attempts to pass off a water pistol as a real gun, is meant to be humorous but is downright idiotic instead. Wouldn't Eddie, of all people, have known to put back the stopper after filling the pistol with water?
Glaring inconsistencies like those add up to an increasingly infuriating film. The last 20 minutes or so, which involve Eddie hatching a ridiculous plan from out of nowhere that's supposed to solve all his problems, are almost unwatchable. Various story threads are abandoned, useless new characters are introduced for no good reason, and the ending has absolutely nothing to do with the beginning of the film at all; it may as well have been taken from a whole other movie altogether. By this point, Hero tries to turn into an action thriller, a feel-good comedy, and a gritty adult satire all at the same time, and winds up botching all three. It's hard to recall another film with such a promising start that ends so disastrously. Some Kind of Hero has several good elements, mainly in the performances and some of the dialogue, but squanders them in a meandering story and silly humor that make it a tragic misfire.
Legend Films has been given the rights to reissue several Paramount catalog titles, including this one. The anamorphic transfer is decent, with some scratches and fading, but nothing too egregious. The stereo mix is also satisfactory. There are no extras at all.
It's hard to overstate just how remarkable Pryor's performance in the dramatic scenes really is. Pryor's acting in the P.O.W. camp scenes, and in a few others scattered throughout the film, is absolutely phenomenal, surpassing any acting he did in any other film. Though the other cast members are generally solid (Sharkey is a particular standout), Pryor carries Hero on his shoulders with ease. Ironically enough, his humorous moments as the film progresses are the weakest and seem tacked-on to pander to audiences. It's a shame Pryor's dramatic chops were so rarely used, because anyone who sees his best work here would realize that he could have been one of the great actors of his generation.
Some Kind of Hero starts out incredibly strong, and then deteriorates into a shapeless mess. Though the first 20 minutes are highly recommended to fans of Pryor or Vietnam movies (the P.O.W. scenes here are a far more realistic depiction than similar scenes in films like The Deer Hunter), those viewers should be warned that the rest of it wanders off in too many wildly divergent directions. It's hard to recommend the film to anyone else.
Guilty of squandering great potential and one of Richard Pryor's most exceptional performances.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Legend Films
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 1981
MPAA Rating: Rated R