Two friends who are dissatisfied with their jobs decide to join the army for a bit of fun.
At the end of a very bad day when he realizes his life has gone and is going nowhere, John Winger is able to convince his best friend, Russell Ziskey, whose life is not much better, to enlist in the army, despite they not being obvious soldier material. In basic training, they are only two of a bunch of misfits that comprise their platoon. However, it is still John that is constantly butting heads with their drill sergeant, Sergeant Hulka. Two of their saving graces are Stella and Louise, two MPs who get them out of one scrape after another. Their entire platoon is in jeopardy of not graduating. But what happens during basic leads to their entire platoon being assigned to an overseas mission in Italy, to test a new urban assault vehicle, the EM-50 project. John and Russell decide to take the EM-50 for an unauthorized test drive to visit Stella and Louise who have been reassigned to West Germany. In the process, the rest of the platoon, Hulka, and Hulka's immediate superior, self-absorbed Captain Stillman, get caught unofficially behind enemy Communist lines in Czechoslovakia. John and Russell, with Stella and Louise's help, will have to show their true mettle as US army soldiers and in the process test the capabilities of the EM-50 to rescue their platoon without the rest of the US army knowing what's going on, and thus without any assistance beyond themselves.
Thanks to a run of bad luck and go-nowhere jobs, John convinces Russell to join the army so they can get in shape, likening it to a health spa. Once in boot camp, wiseguy John tangles with his by-the-book Sgt. and becomes the unofficial leader for his platoon, made up mostly of other misfits and assorted losers. After somehow making it through graduation, they are given a special assignment but, thanks to John's romantic interest in a pretty MPO, the other men wind up behind the Iron Curtain until John, Russell, their dates and Sgt. Hulka make a daring rescue attempt in explosive style.
- Bill Murray decides to be all that he can be -- and it ain't pretty -- in this hit comedy. John Winger (Murray) is a quick-witted loser who comes home after losing his job to discover that his car has been repossessed and his girlfriend is leaving him. With no idea of what to do next, Winger and his best friend Russell Ziskey (Harold Ramis) impulsively join the Army, more as a practical joke than a career goal.
Winger and Russell soon find themselves in basic training under the hard-nosed, professional Sergeant Hulka (Warren Oates), who is stuck with an outfit of goofballs, including overweight Ox (John Candy), naive Cruiser (John Deihl), stoner Elmo (Judge Reinhold), and the appropriately-nicknamed Psycho (Conrad Dunn). Things do not go well, and ultimately Sgt. Hulka is injured in a training accident. Their commanding officer (John Larroquette) threatens to make them all take basic training again!
Winger and Russell find time to romance two pretty female MPs, Stella (P.J. Soles) and Louise (Sean Young). At graduation, Winger leads the platoon in a crazy drill routine which nonetheless impresses the General. The entire platoon is sent to Italy, and are reunited with Sergeant Hulka.
Stealing the top-secret EM50 (a kind of armored personnel carrier disguised as an RV) that they were supposed to be testing, John and Russell go to visit their girlfriends in Germany. Their platoon goes to find them, but is so incompetent that they wind up in communist Czechoslovakia! The errant soldiers and their girlfriends come to the rescue with the EM50, fighting their way in as Russell reads the documentation for the advanced weapons systems. With a little help from Sergeant Hulka (the only platoon member NOT captured), they break out the others and are ultimately decorated for valor.
Remarkably, Stripes was made with the full cooperation of the U.S. Army, despite its less-than-rosy view of the all-volunteer armed forces.