Stripes could also be called Ghostbusters do war. It is missing Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson but does star Bill Murray and Harold Ramis, as well as being directed by the same man who helmed the supernatural comedy, Ivan Reitman. What it doesn’t share with the iconic 80’s classic is any real structure. This is a film to showcase the talents of Bill Murray which is both it’s blessing and it’s curse.
Point a camera at Bill Murray and he can make any situation very funny. His cameos in Olive Kitteridge, a drama devoid of much comedy, bring some much needed levity. He has comedy in his bones and you can tell that this movie was pitched to studios purely as “Bill Murray joins the army.” This alone is enough of a reason to watch and the first half plays squarely to the comedy actor’s strengths. He gets to be goofy, silly, disrespect authority in a way that only Bill Murray can and all while getting ridiculously good looking women. It is a pure Murray vehicle.
In fact, it is so much of a Bill Murray vehicle it is almost too easy to forget the other comedy legends it features. John Candy plays Ox, a beast of a man with anger issues while John Larroquette is the inept Captain trying to keep Murray and the soldiers in check. It also stars an unhinged, let-loose Harold Ramis. This is not Egon from Ghostbusters but a drug taking, sexual, song-lover who follows Murray into army training.
All of this works very well until the movie tries to tell any kind of story. Stripes is really just a collection of sketches thrown together, from Candy wrestling woman in mud, a bizarre drill session and a weird venture into the jungle with the militia. For the first half of the movie at least, the story seems aimless.
It doesn’t seem to get much better when the story does finally emerge. It becomes a rescue mission, with Murray going from inept trainee to fully-fledged action hero. It requires a pretty hefty suspension of disbelief but luckily it has it’s greatest weapon, Murray himself. The actor is always watchable and you are willing to follow him into a ridiculous, illogical movie where a camper van hides a barrage of bombs, missiles and machine guns because he can’t help but put a smile on your face.
Overall, Stripes is an example of how Bill Murray can save a movie. All Reitman really needs to do is point the camera at Murray and let him be himself, which is also why the movie feels so aimless at times. When it does start to tell a story, it lacks any real depth but the chance to see Murray being a soldier is enough to save the movie and keep your interest to the end.
Rating – 3
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