Stripes

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

John Winger is a cab driver, who, in the span of a few hours, loses his job, his car, and his girlfriend. Realizing that his life is a failure, he decides to join the United States Army. Talking his best friend Russell Ziskey into joining with him, they drive to a recruiting office and are soon off to basic training.

Upon arrival at Fort Arnold, they meet their fellow recruits, and their drill sergeant, Sergeant Hulka. Moments after arriving, Winger offends Sgt. Hulka and is ordered out to do push-ups. He stands out as a misfit throughout the rest of basic training. Their commanding officer is the incompetent Captain Stillman. As basic training progresses, Ziskey and Winger become close to two female MPs named Louise and Stella. Not long before graduation, Sgt. Hulka is injured when Stillman orders a mortar crew to fire without setting target coordinates.

The men go to a mud wrestling bar, where Winger convinces Dewey “Ox” Oxberger to wrestle a group of women. When the club is raided by MPs and police, Stella and Louise cover for Winger and Ziskey. The rest of the platoon is taken back to base to face Captain Stillman, who threatens to force them to repeat basic training.

After partying with Stella and Louise, Winger and Ziskey return to the barracks, and Winger motivates the platoon with a rousing speech and begins to get them in shape for graduation. After a long night of drilling, they oversleep and almost miss the ceremony. They rush to the parade grounds out of uniform and give an unconventional yet highly coordinated drill display led by Winger. General Barnicke is impressed when he finds out that they had to complete training without a drill sergeant, and decides they are just the kind of “go-getters” he wants working on his EM-50 project in Italy.

Once in Italy, their mission is to guard the EM-50 Urban Assault Vehicle. Bored with their assignment, Winger and Ziskey steal the EM-50 to visit their girlfriends, stationed in West Germany. When Stillman finds the EM-50 missing, he launches an unauthorized mission to get the vehicle back before his superiors find out it is gone. Hulka, recovered and returned to the platoon, urges Stillman not to go, but is overruled.

Stillman inadvertently leads the platoon across the border into Czechoslovakia. Hulka, realizing where they are, jumps out of the truck just before it is captured. He makes a Mayday radio call, and Winger and Ziskey realize that the platoon came looking for them and that their friends are in trouble. Winger, Ziskey, Louise, and Stella take the EM-50 and infiltrate a Russian base where the platoon is being held. With some assistance from Hulka, they free everyone.

Upon returning to the United States, Winger, Ziskey, Louise, Stella, and Hulka are treated as heroes, each being awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Hulka retires and opens the HulkaBurger franchise. Stella appears on the cover of Penthouse, “Ox” makes the cover of Tiger Beat, and Winger is featured on the cover of Newsworld. Captain Stillman is reassigned to a weather station near Nome, Alaska

REVIEW:

Last week, we lost the legendary actor/comedian/director Harold Ramis. To honor his memory, I thought I’d watch one of his films, the one that most people recommended (aside from the Ghostbusters movies) was Stripes. Even my best friend brought it up, saying she played the song back in her high school band days. Hey, the theme is catchy! As highly regarded as this picture is, where do I hold it after watching this afternoon.

What is this about?

After losing everything, an indolent sad sack impulsively joins the U.S. Army and cajoles his best friend into enlisting, too. But after making it through boot camp, the duo find themselves in the midst of an international incident.

What did I like?

Military. I like a good military comedy. One of my favorite films in this genre is No Time for Sergeants. Having a military history that is limited to being a military brat (dad was in the Air Force) and a couple of years of ROTC in high school, I can’t truly appreciate the humor of boot camp and training, but based on what I do know is that this watching what Bill Murray does to the “system” is hilarious.

Routine. It is graduation day and the platoon of guys we’ve been following spent the whole night before practicing and have to run to the reviewing stand. Upon getting there, they give what is one of, if not the best scene in the film. Mixing in military precision with laid back fun, you can’t help but smile as this is going on and as Bill Murray’s commands.

Bill. In order for this film to work, a good, charismatic, and above all, funny leading man is necessary. This comes in the form of Bill Murray, who deliver line after line of the funny. Sure, at times he comes off as a too much, but hey, this is a cocky character, so it works.

What didn’t I like?

What is it good for? I don’t know what it is, but in military movies like this, once the recruits graduate and head into battle, the film crashes and burns. Well, the same thing happens with this picture. Apparently, the routine they did at graduation day was the climax of the film, because all the stuff that happens over in Europe did nothing for me, except for serve as filler for the last act.

Dichotomy. So, there are two commanding officers. The first it the typical drill sergeant and the other is the officer above him, in this case a captain. One would imagine that the captain would be the “good guy”, or at least the lesser of two evils, but that isn’t the case. John Laroquette’s character is nothing more than an opportunist, only looking out for himself. Basically, it is the kind of character we’ve come to expect from Laroquette, just not what I thought served this film in the best way, especially after the sergeant’s injury.

Candy. I love John Candy. He was a really funny guy who left us too soon. For some reason, he isn’t really given a good introduction in this film, nor is he given anything to really do, and yet it is apparent they want the audience to know he’s in this film. Personally, I think this is just a bad case of editing, but I have to wonder why it is they cut his scenes, if this is the case.

Solidly made, pretty funny, and more than worth the praise and hype it has received over time, Stripes is more than worth your time. A pretty good cast that executes the great writing makes this even more enjoyable. I have very little negative to say about it, but I do think that European section of this film should have been punched up a bit to be as enjoyable as the training part. Still, I do recommend this film, so give it a shot!

3 3/4 out of 5 stars

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2 Responses to “Stripes”

  1. This looks quite good, and I’ve heard great things about it. It makes it sound even more interesting that only some of it (Europe) wasn’t very fun, while everything else worked. I haven’t seen enough of Bill Murray’s work, and I’d like to change that eventually.

  2. Mystery Man Says:

    All the great things you’ve heard are warranted. Bill Murray is quite hilarious, especially in his early 80s roles. As he’s gotten older, he seems to have drifted towards dramas, but even in those he’s still pretty good, at least in the ones I’ve seen. You definitely need to check out some of his work sometime.

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