By Dan Skip Allen
Ivan Reitman has had a forty-year career as a director and producer making such movies as Ghostbusters and its sequel, Animal House, Meatballs, Dave, and a few Arnold Schwarzenegger comedies. He has made some iconic films in his career. He has even helped his son become a great director as well. One of his most iconic movies is Stripes, a comedy about two men who join the Army and get more than they bargained for.
John Winger (Bill Murray) is a down-on-his-luck man who lost his job, girlfriend, car, and apartment. He's looking for something to motivate him and get his mind and body right. Russell Disney (Harold Ramis) is his best friend. He teaches migrants how to read and speak the English language. They both need a change in life and a change in mindset. The Army is the right place for them. Along the way, they meet some colorful characters and a couple of enlisted ladies and become friends with them.
Along with Murray and Ramos are John Candy as Ox, Judge Reinhold as Elmo, Warren Kate's as Sgt. Hulka, John Larroquette as Capt. Stillman, PJ Soles as Stella, and Sean Young as Louise. This cast is fantastic. It has a lot of standup comedians who improvise quite a bit of the dialogue. The legendary comedians in this film make for many laughs and make for a hilarious ensemble. The military has never been this fun before or ever since.
Stripes is full of this ragtag group of individuals who need to come together to help the Army to deploy a new state-of-the-art weapon called an EM-50, basically a glorified motorhome. This ends up being the thing that allows Murray and company to come together. They are not the military type, but they know they need a change — even Sgt. Hulka instigates Murray's character to get him motivated to show what he can do for his country. This is a typical military film. Murray and the cast are great in it.
After all the hijinks that ensue during basic training, the film takes a turn for the better. They have to fight in an encounter, and more laughs and action occur. Reitman knows how to get the audience laughing. Various scenes of mud wrestling and so forth add levity to a film with plenty of laughs already. John Candy shows why he's such a great comedic actor in this scene. This creates great comradery for the group of young soldiers in the film.
As far as military films go, this is one of the better ones. It's no Private Benjamin, but it's pretty good. Both have heart as well as laughs. Reitman knows how to bring the heartfelt moments out while also getting laughs from the audience. This film even has romantic moments between Soles, Murray, Young, and Ramis.
The film also has excellent music and nostalgic moments of singing "Do Wah Diddy Dumb Diddy Do" by Manfred Mann while marching and "The Rubberband Man" by The Spinners at the mud wrestling bar. The music by Elmer Bernstein adds another fun element to the film. The military songs are in the movie as well. "Joining the Army" by Nita Leaves is an entertaining song too.
Stripes is a fun film that takes the Army and turns it on its head. The superb cast of legendary comedians such as Murray, Ramis, Candy, Larroquette, and others makes a very funny film. Add a little romance and some action, and you have a fun movie. Reitman assembled the right people to bring Len Blum, Dan Goldberg, and Harold Ramis's script to life. All in all, Stripes was the kind of film Murray, Ramis, Candy, and Reitman have been associated with their entire careers. It is a hilarious, nostalgic trip down memory lane for me and I'm sure many others. Reitman will be missed, but he leaves behind a legacy of great work.
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