It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Steve Martin would not have been the first name on my list to play Sgt.
Ernest Bilko. I might have started with a more manic type, like Jim Carrey, or someone identified with smooth-talking con men, like Joe Mantegna. But what I had forgotten is that Bilko is not really a nut or a fraud, but a public servant, who manipulates the Army in order to rain benefits not only upon himself, but upon his men.
Everybody benefits from a Bilko scheme -- even those who get taken, because they are, after all, entertained, and on the great Bilko wheel of fortune, their number, too, will come up sooner or later. Right from the opening scenes of` "Sgt. Bilko,'' Steve Martin convinces us of the rightness of the casting. He is good-natured, amused, fascinated by the limitless possibilities he sees all around him. Of course he is adored by his men.
As the movie opens, Bilko is staging a phony tug-of-war between a horse and a man, raising the stakes each time the man is defeated, until finally they're high enough for the horse to lose. The match is being held at Bilko's motorpool, which also features crap tables, a gift shop and more sale merchandise than the nearest Kmart. Alerted by the base radio station, he learns that his commanding officer, Col. Hall (Dan Aykroyd), is on the way over, and is able to conceal all the incriminating evidence -- except for the horse.
What he does with the horse, and how he explains what the horse does, is part of the genius of Bilko. So are his scams, including the tickets he's selling to the `"Meet Stormin' Norman Barbecue'' with a celebrity impersonator.