Bill Murray is known for his irreverent wit and retroscripted ad lib amongst other things, and he doesn’t disappoint in Stripes, his fourth notable feature.
In a typical down-on-his luck fashion John Winger (Murray) quits his job as a taxi driver, loses his apartment, has his car stolen and to top it off his girlfriend breaks up with him when he walks in the door. Without knowing quite what to do with his life an advert for the army flashes onto his TV and he cajoles his best friend Russell Ziskey (Harold Ramis) into joining the army for basic training. Winger sees it as an opportunity to straighten out and give his life meaning again.
For a film that is incredibly lighthearted it continues to surprise throughout from the Pom Pom bar with naked mud wrestling to an act of war in Russian occupied Czechoslovakia. At the centre of it all stand John and Russell with an aptitude for causing trouble, and getting out of it as well. Although heavily weighted around the army I didn’t feel that it was made with satire in mind. Although it does feel like a satirical portrayal of army life in some cases but perhaps more the futility of war when there is so much more in life to enjoy. After all, the majority of the platoon on basic training admit to being there for fitness reasons, a chance to lose some pounds and become a mean lean fighting machine as Ox (John Candy) innocently admits. Not to become regular army soldiers.
When it comes to Bill Murray his humour is often silly but also unique and there are moments of real cinematic innocence in the way he controls our attention with ridiculous antics, language and behaviour that inspire in each and everyone of us a sense of jealousy. Testiment to his acting ability and on-screen persona more often than not he can bring characters to life with his unique personality and give a potentially wooden script about tomfoolery at basic training a realism that suggests this is the way Murray would have actually behaved at basic training. Ill-disciplined, disobedient and lazy are the three words disassociated with basic training when it comes to whipping together some new recruits. But unlike in other films that treat a similar theme with respect and actually go as far as to honour the tradition of punishments for the sake of team spirit Stripes thrives with Murray at the helm of humorous absurdity.
Part of me wishes I had stumbled across Stripes in the ‘Because I watched…’ feature partly because it would have been a welcome surprise. But then again, it was a welcome surprise because I had no idea what to expect and had put it off in the past because the summary didn’t scream Comedy from the off. If you love Bill Murray (or at least appreciate the classics), have Netflix, or just fancy watching something silly and entertaining then I’d happily recommend Stripes and award it Brilliant as a rating. This rating comes largely in part from the graduation scene which is outstanding but I won’t ruin it here, you’ll just have to watch it yourselves.
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