Eddie Keller (Richard Pryor) is a member of the U.S. Army, serving in Vietnam when he gets captured by the VC and spends the next few years in a POW camp. During that time, he befriends another POW named Vinnie (Ray Sharkey). Though the quick-witted Eddie is often able to outsmart his captors and their attempts to turn him into a propaganda tool, he finally snaps when he’s told that Vinnie will be allowed to die unless Eddie signs a “confession” in which he renounces both America and the war. Hoping to save his friend’s life, Eddie signs the paper.
After 5 long years in the camp, Eddie finally returns to America. He’s given a momentary hero’s welcome and then he is quickly forgotten about. After all, everyone wants to move on from Vietnam and Eddie, by his very existence, is a reminder of the war. However, Eddie can’t move on. His wife (Lynne Moody) left him for another man while he was missing. His mother (Olivia Cole) suffered a stroke and is now in a nursing home. Worst of all, because Eddie signed that confession, the army considers him to be a traitor and is refusing to release his backpay.
What can Eddie do? How about a rob a bank and then run off with Toni (Margot Kidder), a hooker with a heart of gold?
Like a lot of Richard Pryor’s starring vehicles, Some Kind of Hero is an uneven film. Pryor was a skilled dramatic actor but he was best known as a comedian and, in most of his starring roles, there was always a conflict between his serious instincts and the demand that all of his films be funny. Some Kind of Hero starts out strong with Pryor in Vietnam. The scenes with Pyror and Sharkey in the POW camp are strong. (In the novel on which the film was based, Eddie and Vinnie were lovers. In the film, they’re just friends.) Though there are funny moments during the first half of the film, the humor arises naturally out of the situation. During the first half of the film, Pryor may make you laugh but he also makes sure that you never forget that he’s on joking to maintain his sanity. But once Eddie returns to the U.S., Some Kind of Hero awkwardly turns into a heist film and the comedy goes from being darkly humorous to being broadly slaptstick. Eddie, who could survive being a prisoner of war and who could usually outsmart the VC, is suddenly transformed into a naive klutz. Richard Pyror does his best but the two halves of the film never seem to belong together.
Unfortunately, Hollywood never really figured out what to do with Richard Pryor as an actor. Some Kind of Hero at least shows that Richard Pryor could be a strong dramatic actor. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t really live up to his talents.