Sunday, January 8, 2012
Movie Review: Stripes (1981)
A showcase for the comedic talent of Bill Murray, Stripes is only as good as its star. Murray's laid-back sardonic style creates good friction with the motif of military discipline, but Stripes suffers from having little to offer other than Murray's attitude.
Much of Stripes was improvised on the spot, director Ivan Reitman keeping the cameras rolling while Murray made things up and the other cast members reacted. It's a sometimes fascinating viewing experience, but the struggle to create a cohesive movie out of essentially uncoordinated comedy moments is also clear. Stripes sags and surges, meanders and regains focus, ultimately providing an interesting but bumpy ride.
When it works, Stripes delivers scenes of comic gold. Murray's speech to rally his platoon prior to the graduation ceremony is classic, as is the platoon's performance in the ceremony itself. But in the final 30 minutes featuring the unplanned invasion of Czechoslovakia, Stripes loses its way in a groan-inducing attempt to superimpose superfluous action onto a comedy, with mostly embarrassing results.
Elsewhere in the cast, Ramis proves to himself that he is no actor, his uncomfortable performance as Ziskey crossing the line from comic to incompetent. Warren Oates performs his function as the crusty drill sergeant with good intentions, while P.J. Soles and Sean Young as the Military Police officers who develop relationships with Winger and Ziskey realize early on that they need to be comely rather than convincing.
Stripes is a one-man comedy routine expanded into a military farce. It is remarkable that it works as well as it does, and this is testimony to Murray's unique talent to deliver cool humour with perfect timing.
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