Some Kind of Hero (1981)
If you’re just about the right age, then the days of the VHS rental were your introduction to Richard Pryor. In many cases too young to see his movies in the theater due to the ratings system, but not too young to realize he was a funny man who dropped F bombs with regularity which led all us youngsters to cajole Mom to let us pick his latest film for the weekend rental.
Some Kind of Hero falls right into that category where my memories are concerned. I actually recalled very little of the film upon this long overdue rewatch and of course, I can easily identify the scenes that surely caused me and my pals at the time to snicker and chuckle at the gags and sexual innuendos that populate the film from screenwriter and author of the original source novel, James Kirkwood. Pryor is in fine form here under the direction of Michael Pressman though it has to be said, that despite the laughs along the way, this is a much more dramatic film than any advertising or trailer would have us believe.
Pryor stars here as a green recruit caught up in the Vietnam war who is taken captive by the enemy and will spend the next few years in captivity. Not exactly a prime backdrop for a comedian of Pryor’s stature. He does inject some humor into the proceedings each time he’s being asked to sign a confession about the U.S. war crimes. This leads to one of the scenes I do recall from my early years where he signs off under an alias to great laughs. A Mr. Mehoff. I’ll let you all figure out what his first name on the confession might be. I still laughed right along with Pryor as he laughs right along with us watching him.
His cell mate is played by Ray Sharkey and when he is subjected to torture and nearing death, Pryor relents on the condition that Sharkey will get medical treatment and signs off condemning his country and in the end himself. He’s now hailed a hero upon his return to the States after six years in prison. The confession will come back to haunt him in regards to his military career and back pay.
Ronny Cox appears as his senior officer who is attempting to acclimate Pryor to his surroundings and work his way back into society. Laughing through the pain, Pryor is going to find that his wife has a new man in her life, his daughter doesn’t know him and his Mother has suffered a stroke and has been hospitalized. Due to his wife’s poor investments, he’s also broke. Pryor the comedian has an uphill challenge before him. Luckily into his world comes a hooker with a heart of gold as played by Lois Lane or Margot Kidder if you prefer. Taking pity on the war hero, she treats him to a night of love making on her “off” night and only finds herself drawn to this soldier, down on his luck.
Pryor decides to take up crime to end his financial woes and proves to be a total amateur when it comes to robbing banks and dry cleaning operations run by little old ladies. Fortunately he just might have fallen into a perfect crime when he encounters long time character player Matt Clark transporting a valise full of cash.
Far from an outright comedy, Pryor still injects some funny bits into what plays as a drama. In the end it’s a rather uneven mix of comedy, drama and social commentary on the returning Vietnam vet. But Pryor is good and his performance actually exceeds the material he’s been given to work with. While I can’t recall this film’s release at the theater, I suspect it was meant to stretch his acting chops while still maintaining enough comedy bits for his fan base. I do remember Pryor’s various films of the late 1980’s and looking for another hit to reclaim his earlier success of the previous decade. Films like Critical Condition, Moving and his attempt like almost every comedian at pulling off a dramatic highlight with Jo Jo Dancer.
There’s nothing wrong with Some Kind of Hero other than to say I’d much rather revisit Stir Crazy or one of his live concerts when I want to see Pryor shine on screen. But don’t let me stop you from checking this one out if you are discovering the films of Pryor for the first time or like me, revisiting a few titles from the past.