Friday, September 11, 2015

Stripes *** (1981)

Bill Murray, originally known as the "new guy" who replaced Chevy Chase on Saturday Night Live, grew into one of the most dynamic cast members in the show's history.  His early film work included the popular Meatballs, playing Hunter Thompson in the disappointing Where the Buffalo Roam, and another goofball in Caddyshack, but in Stripes he perfected the wiseguy persona to carry him through several movies. 

The film opens with Murray and his bookish sidekick Harold Ramis as a couple of underachievers who decide to take their chances with Uncle Sam. And why not? Reagan made the army cool again, the decade of "Be All You Can Be."

Stripes painted a mostly positive portrait of the army, one of the first films in the post-Vietnam era to do so. Apocalypse Now, released two years before, took the Vietnam film as far as it could possibly go.  Stripes offered a kinder, gentler army that helps young people find their place in life, a theme it shared with Private Benjamin and An Officer and a Gentleman.

But unlike the Tony Scott/Tom Cruise vehicle Top Gun, an extremely nationalistic film, Stripes expressed a patriotism I could get behind:

Great stuff -  Beetle Bailey meets Henry V.

It's hard not to believe Stripes is thirty years old.  Three iconic actors from the era have passed on: John Candy, Harold Ramis, and Warren Oates are all at the top of their game in Stripes.  Oates especially as the tough Drill Sergeant, funny but never the buffoon and always the match for Murray.

Director Ivan Reitman duplicated his success in big budget comedy a few years later with Ghostbusters.  Stripes holds up for many reasons, mainly because it remains pretty damn funny.

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