When it comes to war comedy films, the first one that often comes to mind is MASH that came out in 1970. For some people, that might be the only notable war comedy they know of. Chances are that some may forget about or not be familiar with a military comedy from 1981: Stripes, starring Bill Murray. In fact, when it comes to Bill Murray movies, Stripes may be one you might forget about or never heard of. I wouldn’t blame you for it, because it’s not one of Murray’s more notable films in my opinion. But let’s not dismiss it as a forgettable movie. It still has some things going for it.
Stripes is one of those relatively predictable comedies in which a loser character looks stupid most of the way and unlikely to succeed, yet is able to achieve big with determination. Here, Bill Murray is a taxi cab driver named John Ringer, who is so miserable with his work that he decides to just quit without a plan for his next job. He is such a loser that his girlfriend breaks up with him. But he’s not alone. Harold Ramis plays Russell Ziskey, who teaches English as a second language to immigrants. He’s quite incompetent in his job, to say the least.
One day, the two men see a television commercial for the United States Army. They decide to join, believing that they could benefit from enlisting. But they don’t take the decision too seriously. Obviously, this is a predictable setup: loser guys voluntarily joining the army without thinking about the high level of discipline involved. Also predictable are some of the jokes. The two men have to deal with physically challenging training exercises, the tough Sergeant Hulka (played by Warren Oates), orders to wake up at 0500 hours (that’s five o’clock in the morning, for you civilians out there), and eventually an actual war situation.
There is, however, one other thing you can expect to see in this movie: sex and nudity. This is certainly a comedy designed for the male audience, because it features mud wrestling, naked women showering, plenty of topless women, and two attractive female military police officers, played by P.J. Soles and Sean Young, whose uniforms essentially cover up their sexuality. Speaking of those two ladies, there is one scene that is funny because it’s unusual and unexpected. It involves John Winger using kitchen tools to arouse P.J. Soles’s character.
Stripes is far from a superb comedy, but it avoids being terrible. Bill Murray does make this movie work. If you ever need a comic actor to play a loser or a cynic, he’s definitely your man. The rest of the cast also make the movie interesting, including John Candy as an overweight army recruit and John Larroquette as an army captain who barely looks serious enough to deserve that rank. Basically, you have average jokes that are made a bit amusing by a funny cast.
So there you have it. Stripes is an OK movie that is funny and raunchy. It’s amazing that the U.S. Army cooperated with the filmmakers, given that this movie pokes fun at the American military. Then again, maybe the movie is good promotion for the army. Still, I would not suggest joining the army because you think you will get to meet sexy women while being a hero. Unless, of course, you get to serve with Private Bill Murray, because he is able to make a serious topic like war be funny.
Anthony’s Rating: 6/10