Sunday, October 13, 2013

#1,154. Stripes (1981)

Directed By: Ivan Reitman

Starring: Bill Murray, John Candy, Harold Ramis

Tag line: "The story of a man who wanted to keep the world safe for democracy...and meet girls"

Trivia: Among the crowd at the Graduation Parade (albeit unseen) was P.J. Soles' then-husband Dennis Quaid

After taking the comedy world by storm in Meatballs and Caddyshack, Bill Murray decided to up the ante by joining the U.S. Army in 1981’s Stripes, with uproarious results.

After losing his job and his girlfriend in the same day, John Winger (Murray) decides it’s time to turn his life around. So, he and his closest friend, Russell Ziskey (Harold Ramis), enlist in the U.S. Army. And even though his relationship with drill instructor Sgt. Hulka (Warren Oates) is strained at best, Winger proves he’s got what it takes to make it as a soldier, and is hand-picked to carry out a top-secret mission (which doesn’t stay secret for very long).

Like Tripper in Meatballs, Bill Murray’s Winger is a wise-ass of the first order, and his sarcastic wit doesn’t always go over well with his superiors. At one point, he mockingly refers to Sgt. Hulka as the company’s “Big Toe” (“an army without leaders is like a foot without a big toe”, he says), something the hard-nosed Hulka doesn’t appreciate. Over time, Winger takes on a little more responsibility; even going so far as to help train the company when Sgt. Hulka is temporarily incapacitated (their final routine at graduation, supposedly choreographed by Winger himself, is a definite high-point of the film).

While Murray is excellent in Stripes, he also gets plenty of support from his co-stars. As Ziskey, Harold Ramis generates a few laughs of his own (before joining the army, he had a job teaching English to recent immigrants, but instead of having them recite simple words and sentences, he has them repeat the chorus of the ‘60s hit song "Da Doo Ron Ron"). Warren Oates is perfectly cast as Sgt Hulka, the career military man who refuses to take any shit from Winger, while John Candy is his usual funny self as Ox, a fellow soldier who, in one hilarious scene, mud wrestles some bikini-clad babes. Then there's John Laroquette’s Captain Stillman, who's almost as bad a soldier as Winger, only he’s in a position of authority (Stillman orders a soldier to fire a mortar even though the weapon isn’t properly set, leading to one of the film's funniest moments).

That’s not to say Stripes is flawless; the final third of the movie, which involves a rescue mission in Czechoslovakia, isn't nearly as entertaining as the earlier basic training scenes. But thanks to Bill Murray and the film’s solid cast, Stripes easily overcomes its weaknesses, earning its reputation as one of the finest comedies to emerge from the 1980s.

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