In one of his funniest comedies, Bill Murray takes on the U.S. Army, and without question, with guys like this on the front lines, we can all sleep a little easier at night. `Stripes,' directed by Ivan Reitman, is the story of John Winger (Murray), who in one day loses his girl, his job, his car and his apartment. So what's a guy to do after that, but join the Army? But he doesn't go alone, oh no-- he also talks his best friend, Russell Ziskey (Harold Ramis) into joining with him. And just like that they find themselves at boot camp, face to face with one of the most formidable Drill Instructors every to grace the silver screen, Sergeant Hulka (Warren Oates), and surrounded by as motley a group of raw recruits as anyone could imagine. Among them, there's Dewey Oxburger (John Candy), known as `Ox,' who plans to emerge from boot camp a `lean, mean fighting machine'; and `Cruiser (John Diehl),' who joined up to beat the draft (Hulka: `Son, there isn't a draft, anymore.' Cruiser: `There was one?'); and Francis Soyer (George Jenesky), known as `Psycho' (`Call me Francis, and I'll kill you. Touch my stuff, and I'll kill you. Touch me...and I'll kill you.' Hulka: `Lighten up, Francis...').
The pressure is on for Hulka and his men, when Colonel Glass (Lance LeGault) informs Captain Stillman (John Larroquette) that the `General' is looking for a squad of crack new recruits to man a special project, and Hulka's boys have been chosen. The project involves a secret weapon, an `urban assault' vehicle, that is to be unveiled on their base in Germany shortly. But first, Hulka has to get his troops through basic, which will be a minor miracle in itself, even though Winger goes `Out on a limb,' and offers to be their leader. And things proceed just as badly as you would expect, not only on the obstacle course, but off, when Winger and Ziskey get mixed up with a couple of female M.Ps., Stella (P.J. Soles) and Louise (Sean Young), and Ox gets coerced (by Winger, of course) into taking part in a female mud-wrestling event at a local night spot.
Along the way, Reitman sets up the situations for some serious laughs, and keeps it all on track with a good pace and excellent timing. Murray is terrific as Winger, with a performance that puts a generous helping of `dry' in the expression `dry humor.' He plays it all so straight, so serious, from his quips and one liners (watching a TV promo for the Army, `This looks pretty good--'), to his full blown inspirational speech to the troops on the night before their final test at basic training (`We're all very different people. We're not Spartans, we're not Watusi, we're Americans, with a capital A.' That means our forefathers were thrown out of every decent country in the world--'), that it makes it all the more hilarious. He never tries to be `funny,' or fish for laughs, which is really what makes this movie work so well. Murray is perhaps the best in the business at playing this kind of humor and putting it across (Ben Stiller would be a close second).
Harold Ramis and John Candy also make invaluable contributions that make this one fly. Watch Ramis, reacting to what Candy is saying as `Ox,' as explains why he joined the Army; it makes what Ox is saying twice as funny. And Ox, talking about what a `shy guy' he is, and how `You may have noticed, I have this weight problem--' And Oates, as well, gives a singular performance that makes Hulka a real person, beyond the typical stereotype of the hard-nosed D.I. His portrayal, taken out of context, is one that would stand up even in more serious fare, like Kubrick's `Full Metal Jacket.'
The supporting cast includes Judge Reinhold (Elmo), John Voldstad (Stillman's Aide), Roberta Leighton (Anita), Antone Pagan (Hector), Fran Ryan (Dowager in Cab), Dave Thomas (M.C.) and William Lucking (Recruiter). From beginning to end, `Stripes' is a fun-filled laugh riot that's filled with memorable scenes and a plethora of lines you'll be quoting forever. This is one you can watch over and over again, with a bunch of characters you're never going to forget. Winger and Ziskey, Ox, Psycho, Cruiser. These are the guys who Demi Moore, as Galloway in `A Few Good Men,' could have been talking about when, in response to the question of why she likes these guys so much, replies, `Because they stand on a wall, and they say nothing is going to hurt you tonight, not on my watch...' It kind of makes you think. Or, as Cruiser might say, `Yeah... About what?' I rate this one 10/10.
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