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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor go Stir Crazy behind bars

Illustration for article titled Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor go Stir Crazy behind bars

Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: The shabby Dumb And Dumber To has us thinking about better films starring famous comedy duos.


Stir Crazy (1980)

The second of four collaborations between Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor, Stir Crazy is a high-water mark for the comedy duo, whose characters—struggling playwright Skip (Wilder) and weed-loving caterer Harry (Pryor)—ditch their going-nowhere lives in NYC and hit the road to L.A. However, their first lengthy stop, in Arizona, turns out to be their last, as they run into cataclysmic legal trouble when they take on a job dancing around at a bank in woodpecker suits, and then are framed for armed robbery when two thieves use those costumes to stick-up the bank. Sentenced to a whopping 125 years behind bars, Skip and Harry find themselves ill at ease in prison, and soon begin losing their minds, especially with a classic freak-out in which Wilder spits on a guard, slaps the baton out of his hands, and then jumps on his back and tries to ride him like a horse.

Less odd couple than complementary weirdoes in tune to each other’s wacko frequency, Wilder and Pryor are a perfect pair as joint losers who approach each scenario with a mixture of anxiety, fear, and clueless, go-for-broke insanity. From Skip giddily riding a mechanical bull in the prison warden’s office—which convinces the chief to have the prisoner compete at the upcoming rodeo competition—to Harry vainly trying to take a sip of water from a sieve-like ladle, Stir Crazy is a series of vignettes tethered together by the loopy shenanigans of its stars. Working from a silly script by Bruce Jay Friedman, director Sidney Poitier eschews plot (at least until the prison-break finale) in favor of emphasizing Wilder and Pryor’s buffoonish habit of constantly getting physically tangled up in knots. The result is a film that’s funny less for its conceptual cleverness than the peerlessly silly faces and ridiculous contortions of two legendary headliners at the peak of their tag-team game.

Availability: Stir Crazy is available on Blu-ray and DVD, which can be obtained from Netflix or your local video store/library, or to purchase from the major digital services.