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Stripes (1981)

by on 2013/08/03

Stripes (1981)“I’m getting too old for this shit.”

* * *

I often think of reviews as a matter of answering those basic questions: who, what, where, when, why, and how. In the case of Stripes, I suspect the “why” is pretty much a function of the “who”.

You see, it’s got an amazing cast. Apart from the various character actors you may recognize – if not from where exactly – it features some well-known names: John Candy, Joe Flaherty, John Larroquette, Lance LeGault, Warren Oates, Harold Ramis, Judge Reinhold, Dave Thomas, Sean Young, and of course, its star, Bill Murray.

On the other hand, the “when” may subvert it with “why not”. To be blunt, its comedy is embarrassingly dated.

Similar to director Ivan Reitman’s Meatballs, sharing the same weak humour and protagonist, Stipes tells the story of Murray’s John Winger, a down-and-out cab driver who loses his car, job, home, girlfriend, and will to live in general. Inspired by a TV ad, he resorts to joining the army, then finds it doesn’t fit with his schlubby outlook. Conflict and chaos ensue, if not comic gold.

The unsung hero is Harold Ramis. He’s great. I never really noticed him when I first saw this piece in the day but, this time, I really appreciated his humanity and humour. Through him, we get the contrast against a sense of turmoil around him, this unassuming yet intelligent person. He’s not so much a straight man as he is thoughtful and bemused. The look in his eyes suggests he had a lot of fun in the role, and the flickers of his excitement are downright contagious.

Which is no small feat against the occasional discomfiting gags, based on the usual easy marks, like potty jokes, swearing, and nudity, but even more about drunk driving, racism, sexism, and statutory rape. I found it all less offensive than Meatballs, yet I also found it less than hilarious. At least some progress was made between 1979 and 1981.

For me, the cast was key but, just in case you’re all about plot, it’s about on par with Gotcha, Spies Like Us, and Top Secret. If you’re looking for dumb fun Cold War flicks, you could certainly do worse than Stripes.

* * *

Rated 18A (Canada) / R (United States)

106 minutes

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