Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Stripes (1981): Classic Bill Murray Comedy


This film is one of the best comedies of the 1980s, along with "Ghostbusters," "Caddyshack" and "Tootsie." If you recognize that all of those also included Bill Murray, you win the gold prize. Take those with the vastly underrated "What About Bob" and "Groundhog Day" from the early '90s and you have a collection of perhaps the best comedies ever made, and all starring Bill Murray. Well, here's another one: Stripes (1981).

Stripes Bill Murray
Bill Murray turns in an epic performance.

Here we have Bill in that perennial favorite, the military screwball comedy.

Stripes John Candy
John Candy at his absolute best.

Who screws up? Well, pretty much everybody, naturally, which gives Murray and Harold Ramis enough elbow room to do their schticks. One of the nice things about this movie is that it includes elements of drama, romance, and farce all jumbled up into a big pretzel that keeps the mood going until the film's final scenes.

Stripes Bill Murray P.J. Soles
There is a bit of romance in "Stripes."

Warren Oates is masterful, giving the second-best '80s performance of a sergeant (after Lee Ermey in Kubrick's later Vietnam film "Full Metal Jacket," which perhaps coincidentally is structurally very similar to this film). He manages to play it straight (mostly) while everyone else chews the scenery. His "Lighten up, Francis" is among the enduring lines of this film, along with Murray's "That's the fact, Jack." Included is a hilarious send-up of the stereotypes of classic war movies (you have the gullible farm boy, the overcompensating scrawny tough guy, the big, funny fat guy etc.), along with P.J. Soles and Sean Young of all people as the female romantic leads. John Candy as "Ox" who wants to become a "lean, mean fighting machine" (well, maybe in the mud-wrestling pit) is at his absolutely most hysterical, this may be his best role.

Stripes Warren Oates Bill Murray
Warren Oates turns in an outstanding performance as a tough drill sergeant.

They don't make them like this anymore. This film stretches the "Slacker" mentality to the limit, as Murray and Ramis send up all other movie characters that take themselves way too seriously. However, for those who think that life imitates art, compare the plot of the second half of the film - bumbling commander can't read a map and leads his troops into enemy territory, heroic rescue, then undeserved media fame for the people rescued - with the Kelly Lynch saga from the 2003 Gulf War and you will see a lot of parallels.

Stripes P. J. Soles
P.J. Soles is adorable throughout.

Highly recommended. Put your feet up and prepare to see Bill Murray take on the mighty Czech hordes with gusto!


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