Murray Earns his Stripes
For those who fell in love with the smart-ass humour of Bill Murray in "Ghostbusters" and "Caddyshack" then "Stripes" is a must watch. It again sees Murray excelling when it comes to flippant remarks and sees him partner up with Harold Ramis in a hysterical comedy about life in the army. As with many comedies from the early 80's the cast includes several stalwarts from Saturday Night Live and although features a reasonable storyline is more about the humour than anything else.
After a run of bad luck, unemployed John (Bill Murray - Zombieland) convinces his best friend Russell (Harold Ramis - Knocked Up) that they should enlist in the army, saying that it will be like a holiday whilst they get in shape. But smart-ass John soon gets on the wrong side of drill sergeant Hulka (Warren Oates) and somehow becomes the unofficial leader of the platoon full of misfits and losers. Having managed to get the platoon through training and graduated they find themselves on a special mission which thanks to John's romantic notions goes disastrously wrong.
In honesty the storyline behind "Stripes" is quite weak with the first half of the movie being more about providing laughs rather than the actual army training and then the second half which is a hair brained rescue attempt again focuses more on laughs than anything else. But then it really doesn't matter as the joy which is "Stripes" comes from the non stop comedy than any meaningful screen play. Saying that, and despite not having a strong storyline, "Stripes" doesn't just feel like a series of set pieces rather a series of scenes that parody certain aspects of army life. It works well and even scenes, such as one which sees one of the recruits, Dewey 'Ox' Oxberger played by John Candy, enter a mud wrestling competition in a strip bar, doesn't actually feel out of place.
One thing which is very apparent is that "Stripes" is a perfectly paced movie, full of energy and that is thanks to director Ivan Reitman who never allows the movie to lull once. It may at times feels like it levels out when it comes to the humour but soon as you think so another spike of hilarity interjects making it pretty much laugh a minute. It's also down to the fact that Reitman knows what he is doing when it comes to comedy and with such a strong comic genius as Bill Murray he allows the humour to come from the witty dialogue rather than slap stick. That's not to say that "Stripes" isn't a visually funny movie, but he allows the supporting cast to dabble in the visual comedy rather than Murray who would have looked out of place doing it.
As with most of Bill Murray's movies he again brings his flippant attitude to the character of John Winger and delivers the majority of the humour in a marvellously smart-ass manner. As with many of his movies, Murray takes on a character which sees him being a bit of a loser but one which we like despite doing some incredibly stupid things and it works. If you look at the "Police Academy" movies which came just a few years later the character of Winger is not too unlike that of Mahoney played by Steve Guttenberg, quick witted, a joker but also an unexpected leader.
Alongside Murray is the ever enjoyable Harold Ramis as Russell Ziskey, who in the earlier scenes shockingly looks like a cross between a young Howard Stern and Bruno from "Fame". As with his more famous role as Dr. Egon Spengler in "Ghostbusters", Ramis again plays the slightly more serious one of the duo, allowing him to play the straight man to Murray's sarcastic wit. But it's not all straight acting and Ramis gets his fair share of funny lines especially in the opening scenes where we are introduced to him trying to teach a class of adults English.
As well as Murray and Ramis, "Stripes" is full of recognizable faces from the already mentioned John Candy as Dewey 'Ox' Oxberger, Judge Reinhold as Pvt. Elmo Blum, Sean Young as MP Louise Cooper, P.J. Soles as MP Stella Hansen and the wonderful Warren Oates as the gruff drill instructor Sgt. Hulka. The good thing is that whilst Murray provides most of the humour and Ramis backs him up the supporting cast provides the variety to stop "Stripes" feeling just like a "look at me" movie and between all the characters and cast there is a multitude of hilarious moments.
What this all boils down to is that "Stripes" is a very funny and somewhat stereotypical movie from the early 80's. With numerous recognizable faces from that era, many of which who made their name on Saturday Night Live, it really is a laugh a minute movie which cleverly parodies life in the military so that even those with no military knowledge can enjoy it. For those who enjoyed "Ghostbusters" then "Stripes" is a must as not only does it see Murray and Ramis partner up but is very similar in the style of humour.