Directed by Ivan Reitman
Produced by Daniel Goldberg/Ivan Reitman
Written by Len Blum/Harold Ramis/Daniel Goldberg
Music by Elmer Bernstein
Cinematography by Bill Butler
Edited by Harry Keller/Michael Luciano/Eva Ruggerio
Ask most people what they consider THE Definitive Bill Murray Comedy and you’re going to get many answers. Some will go all the way back to “Meatballs.” A whole lot will say “Caddyshack” or “Ghostbusters.” A lot more will say “Scrooged” or “Groundhog Day.” Then you’ll have those that will cite “Rushmore” or “The Royal Tenenbaums.” Seeing as how I’m not a fan of either one of those we’ll just push on.
But if you were to ask me what my definitive Bill Murray Comedy is, I’d always answer with STRIPES. Why? Maybe because it appeals a whole lot to who I was back in 1981 when I saw the movie. I was irreverent, foolhardy, undisciplined and more than a bit of a total asshole which is exactly what the John Winger character that Bill Murray plays in this movie is. So I identified a lot with that. But it’s also more than that. STRIPES is a superior comedy that highlights the team of Bill Murray and Harold Ramis to their comedic utmost. I mean that everything these cats do in this movie is funny. STRIPES is one of those rare comedy movies that just doesn’t run out of steam. The longer it goes on, the funnier it gets. And it’s my favorite kind of comedy in that I’m laughing with the characters and the situations they get into and not at them.
John Winger (Bill Murray) loses his job, his girl and his apartment all in the same day and on an impulse decides to join The Army and be all the best that he can be. His best friend Russell Ziskey (Harold Ramis) joins up with him because he’s that Best of Best Friends: the one that will totally and completely assist you in making a stupid mistake.
Winger and Ziskey are a little older than your usual recruit so they’re not as down with the gung-ho attitude of their younger platoon mates (John Candy, John Diehl and Judge Reinhold). And Winger soon finds himself in serious contention with their drill sergeant, Sergeant Hulka (Warren Oates) who is having his own problem with the platoon’s new commanding officer, the supremely incompetent Captain Stillman (John Larroquette). But Winger and Ziskey soon find the rigors of basic training softened by their blatantly sexual relationships with female MPs Hansen (P.J. Soles) and Cooper (Sean Young).
Through a series of misadventures I would not dream of revealing here just in case you have never seen STRIPES (and if you haven’t then what is wrong with you?) Winger, Ziskey, Hansen and Cooper find themselves in the EM-50 Urban Assault Vehicle, which is basically a tank designed as a family RV invading Czechoslovakia to rescue Captain Stillman and their platoon who themselves mistakenly invaded Czechoslovakia thinking that Winger and Ziskey were Russian spies. Look, just watch the movie, okay?
I truly enjoy watching Bill Murray at work in every single scene in this movie. Not only is he as funny as we expect him to be in the funny scenes but there are actually a couple of scenes where we see flashes of the dramatic actor we would see in later movies such as “Lost In Translation” “Get Low” and “Hyde Park On Hudson.” I really like how Harold Ramis ended up with the Hot Chick in this movie instead of his co-star. And STRIPES is the movie that will make you wish that he and Murray had co-starred in a lot more movies. In this movie he shows how he was truly the perfect foil and balance for Murray’s type of humor.
What else can I say about STRIPES? There’s Warren Oates and his understated performance as Sergeant Hulka. Oates is funny here because most of the time he’s on screen he’s not trying to be funny. But when he is trying, he knows how to sell the scene. And he knows how to play dramatic in a comedy movie such as in the scene where he and Murray have a confrontation in a bathroom. The scene isn’t played for laughs and in the context of what we have come to know about the two characters and their relationship to each other, it works. John Candy and John Diehl have some great scenes together that I enjoyed a lot because I know from interviews I’ve read and seen with him I think I have a good sense of how smart John Diehl is and I appreciate that you have to be really smart to play really dumb. The Classic “Army Training, SIR!” scene where Murray and his platoon totally kick all kinds of ass in drill techniques in front of the Army brass.
The bottom line is this: I consider STRIPES to be one of the smartest and funniest comedies to have come out of the 1980s. You want to see Classic Bill Murray at his best, watch this one.