Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor play Flip and Harry, a pair of friends from New York who get fired on the same day and decide to head to California. But on the way they get falsely accused of a bank robbery and sentenced to 125 years in prison, where Flip uncovers a hidden talent for riding bulls. He ends up competing in a prison rodeo, possibly the most American sporting event since hot dog eating contests.
Directed by Sidney Poitier, this is the first film by a black director to break $100m at the box office. It’s very likeable, thanks in large part to the two leads. Wilder and Pryor make an entertaining pair, with Pryor as the straight man to Wilder’s uncompromisingly optimistic and naive Flip. He believes that anyone can be reasoned with and refuses to be broken by the harsh punishments of prison. The result resembles something like a comedy One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, complete with a large and misunderstood mute (Erland Van Lidth)
The moments of genuine hilarity are few and far between, but the decent plot and great performances from Wilder and Pryor make it an enjoyable watch nonetheless. Its biggest problem is that in spite of it being a buddy movie, Flip is given the lion’s share of the story as he competes in the rodeo and even gets a love interest (JoBeth Williams). This leaves Pryor with comparatively little to do which is a shame given his talent. But it’s still a fun ride, and a great opportunity to see two comedy legends at work, even if it’s not their best work.