Stripes (1981 USA)

Psycho: “The name’s Francis Sawyer, but everybody calls me Psycho. Any of you guys call me Francis, and I’ll kill you.” Leon: “Ooooooh.” Psycho: “You just made the list, buddy. Also, I don’t like no one touching my stuff. So just keep your meathooks off. If I catch any of you guys in my stuff, I’ll kill you. And I don’t like nobody touching me. Any of you homos touch me, and I’ll kill you.” Sergeant Hulka: “Lighten up, Francis.” The movie is basically trying to make the Army the way Police Academy made the Police look. Dumb and unbelievable. The plot is shabby, the characters are thin and of course guys love this flick. A nude woman within the first few minutes of the film. Two scenes involving multiple nude women. Bikini mud wrestling. The DVD even throws in even more gratuitous nudity than the original contained.

Female viewers had better proceed with extreme caution. You may not like what you see as any feminist sensibilities get steamrolled by writers Harold Ramis, Len Blum and Dan Goldberg. The film has a peculiar air of childishness to it as well. You feel they could have upped the comic element a whole lot more. Some scenes feel like a practice run for a future script that will be more developed. The jokes are forced and flat. The screenplay never once questions America’s military dominance in the world. The two main characters have virtually nothing going for them but attractive female military police suddenly fall at their feet, allowing these guys to do anything they want. No consequences. Like the nudie bar sequence that becomes a mud wrestling interlude, there is absolutely no believability whatsoever.

I guess this is one of the classic T&A movies from the eighties. But there is a fine line between T&A and porn and the 1980s certainly threw in plenty of shocking vulgarity that pushed the envelope further in cinema and TV than it ever had before. Think “Porky’s”. Think “Brimstone & Treacle.” Think “The Singing Detective” etc. It’s surprising how graphic entertainment became at the same time feminism was gaining more power in society. For nostalgic reasons, I would recommend Stripes big time, plus it has an excellent cast that I’m sure you’ll love. Though I admit, these were the good ole’ days of dirty comedies that didn’t apologize for their smut. This was a showcase for rising stars (Harold Ramis, John Candy, John Larroquette, Sean Young, Judge Reinhold) and features Warren Oates’ – God bless him – funniest performance on film. It nevertheless is primarily Bill Murray’s show, but his performance is mixed. He doesn’t have that many funny lines being the main problem.

The plot here is pretty basic and has been done many times before and since – wise ass joins the military and mocks it before eventually making good in his own way. The film is split into two; the boot camp being the first and the mission in Europe being the second. Overall this is a silly comedy that might win you over if you are really in the mood and happy to accept less. The two main characters are really obnoxious and not for one moment do we believe these two are in the Army, since the smarmy grins never fall from their faces. Could they be more aware they’re making pretend in a Hollywood production? And the humourless drill instructors and sitcom-ensemble supporting cast only serve to underscore the stacked deck from which director Ivan Reitman is dealing. The first half is funnier than the second which becomes more a painful action story rather than a comedy. It’s hard to watch to the end.

The problem with Stripes is that the makers of it think Murray’s anti-establishment behaviour in the Army is totally off the wall, when really it’s just an extended Saturday Night Live sketch. Conrad Dunn’s small part as Psycho was perfect. He made a cartoon out of his character quite successfully. Murray won’t take that risk, because no matter what role he’s playing, he’s never “acting.” You never forget it’s Murray saying those lines or doing that crazy thing. Murray has the Jack Nicholson disease where any character he plays pales in comparison to his own personality, which can be an asset. In this film, it’s problematic. Murray improved at creating characters later in his career, but this film is a dud. A simple minded guilty pleasure full of clichés. And why the hell is it so long? Kudos to the lady below for such a gymnastic effort. Many condemn anyone willing to display their bodies or act sexually for the public. But it actually takes a lot of guts to be so uninhibited. And athletic.

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Comments

  1. This film never really appealed to me and therefore I have not seen it, sounds like I didn’t miss much! Excellent review.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great analysis of the Stripes. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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