A bum who just quit his job as a cab driver joins the army
on a whim and convinces his best friend to go with him.
Directed by Ivan Reitman
Written by Len Blum, Daniel Goldberg, Harold Ramis
Starring Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, John Candy, Warren Oates,
P.J. Soles, Sean Young, John Larroquette, John Diehl
Considering the level of all-star comedy chops that Stripes had at its disposal, this film should've been so much funnier. It's not a bad movie, but it never goes that far with its great premise. Bill Murray and Harold Ramis as goofy soldiers, with John Candy along for the ride? On paper, that sounds insane. But the film has a serious streak that hurts it, and the ending is so bonkers and preposterous that it goes against the entire point of the movie, essentially erasing that point. But it has its moments.
Bill Murray is John Winger, a lazy bum who loses his job, his car, his apartment, and his girlfriend all in one day, prompting him to join the army. He convinces his friend Russell (Ramis) to join him, and the two endure basic training under Drill Sergeant Hulka (Oates). Winger has no respect for authority, and there's a bizarrely serious scene where Hulka confronts him about the true duty of the American soldier, to which Winger shrugs his advice off. Scenes like this imply that Winger will learn something by the end, which he doesn't. In fact, the debacle in the final act is his fault, yet he gets awarded for his monumental cock-up. I understand it's a comedy, but when you include serious, plot-heavy scenes like the one described above, you need to make good on the delivery or else you're just stringing the audience along for no reason.
Stripes was a great idea that didn't translate all that well, mostly because I don't think anybody takes advantage of how nuts they could get with this thing. It's surprisingly tame in its comedy, and it uses gratuitous nudity in place of jokes, with an extended, out of the blue mud wrestling scene that just didn't land and hasn't aged well. But there's certain lines that have since become iconic (That's the fact, Jack!") and it's tough to ignore that. Overall, I'd watch the film again, just with lower expectations.