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Thursday, 15 December 2016

Retro Review: Stripes (1981)

Cast: Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Sean Young, John Candy 
Genre: Buddy Military Comedy
North American Box Office Gross: over $85 Million

Plot: When quick-witted slacker John loses his apartment, girlfriend and job all in one day, he decides to embark on a new adventure: he joins the U.S army nearly starting World War III

'Four & A Half Stars For Stripes From Me'

Military-based films, besides Good Morning, Vietnam, are not really my thing and Ivan Reitman's Stripes, though is very much a different type of comedy movie to Robin Williams's hit, it operates less so like a standard Reitman comedy farce that I'd come to expect from him. Also unlike his latter movies, Stripes is more adult-orientated; likewise it has a nude scene with John's wife/girlfriend. The female characters were either nude or scantily clad and the nudity just wasn't warranted or necessary to have. 

John Winger hasn't had the greatest of days: having been dumped by his girlfriend, lost his job as a taxi driver, as well as his apartment, he signs up to join the army and takes his friend, Russell along with him for the ride. 

The opening scene with Harold Ramis as English teacher, Russell with a Leo Sayer- type haircut, teaching English swearwords to a bunch of foreign students, was very amusing. When he has his head shaved, Ramis looks more like John Turturro. There is slapstick in this film and it is amusing to see. The film also came in for some flack for not being truly representative of the army and of army life, but that as Stripes is a satirical comedy, it needn't have to and though it is not like Saving Private Ryan and Windtalkers it never claims to be. It needed to be humourous and amusing, which this is a comedy. Kind of. That, along with films like Private Benjamin and An Officer & a Gentlemen, they raised awareness, as well as the profile of the military. It has little moments where John and Russell break into song with do-wah-diddy. 

After a strong and amusing start, at 2 hours long the film loses its touch during the second half, right up to the last third where it sags. Compared to Ivan Reitman's other comedies, such as Kindergarten Cop, Ghostbusters, Fathers' Day, this is not as entertaining or as highly amusing and though the comedy is so-so, it's also not consistent. It is moreso on the lines of Caddyshack than those films. It took a lot for me to sustain all the way through it, but the army theme, because of my lack of interest in it, is the other reason why I didn't take to Stripes very much. Even with John and Russell joining the military, this would be a cue for all manner of silly, ridiiculous, farcical comedy situations and slapstick occuring. But here, it becomes wholly unfunny and not very interesting. Whoever penned the script should've done a whole lot better, because there is really no structure. 

Performance-wise with the leads, Bill Murray was good, though his sardonic style of comedy and humour is not really to my taste. Though I did prefer him in Tootsie, Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day, whereas with Harold Ramis, other than as Egon Spengler in the original Ghostbusters and a guest role in As Good as It Gets, he doesn't have much of a screen presence as a straight guy to make a major impact in a comedy film. 

Coupled with the film being slightly too long for over 2 hours, the film would have been even more sustainable and bearable had the material been a lot funnier, consistency-wise. For it being billed as a ''hilarious'' comedy it has garnered, Stripes was anything but hilarious. The humour made me smile and chuckle, but it didn't make my insides hurt. 

It's one of those films where at its time in the 1980s, it was considered as a classic and funny, but fast forwarding to today, sadly with Stripes, it's just isn't anymore.

Final Verdict:

Stripes isn't as easily accessible as Ivan Reitman's comedies such as Fathers' Day, Kindergarten Cop, Twins, insofar as the comedy and humour goes and military films, aren't usually my thing. It's also nowhere the comic masterpiece that critics have labelled this film as, which is why I was slightly dissapointed that my expectations, as low as they were, I still wanted this comedy to be throughly amusing and entertaining. Sadly, it just wasn't to be with Stripes; the humour is very uneven and scattered. The needless nudity scenes were thrown in, just to give the men something to look at.

In a comedy with Bill Murray, John Candy and Harold Ramis and director Ivan Reitman in charge, laughs are to be expected. Yet these are very few. Though they are capable of better stuff with funnier material at their disposal, thankfully both Bill Murray and Ivan Reitman did go on to do more established and arguably, in my view at least, even more, amusing films than this offering. 

When it comes to military comedies, the likes of M.A.S.H and Good Morning, Vietnam stand out as the best examples that represent this genre. Stripes had the potential to be a whole lot funnier & to join the ranks of those efforts - & yet this was to no avail. I usually and generally enjoy Ivan Reitman's comedies in Ghostbusters, Kindergarten Cop, Fathers' Day, Junior but with this film, it's the opposite and at best, it is average. 

Suffice to say, Stripes was a major disappointment for me after a really good start, contrary to the rave reviews; comedy-wise it isn't always great and when there were amusing scenes there wasn't more of them, either. 

This film will be more to your taste if you are a fan of the military sitcom, M.A.S.H

Likewise, to each their own.


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