- Title: Stripes
- Director: Ivan Reitman
- Date: 1981
- Studio: Columbia Pictures
- Genre: Comedy
- Cast: Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Warren Oates, John Larroquette, Judge Reinhold, John Candy, Lance LeGault
- Format: Color, Widescreen
- DVD Format: R1, NTSC
“You don’t say ‘sir’ to me, I’m a sergeant I work for a living.” — Sgt. Hulka (Warren Oates)
“I’m talking about something important, like disclipline and duty and honor and courage. And you ain’t got none of it.” — Sgt. Hulka
“We’re Americans – with a capital ‘A’. Do you know what that means? Do you? It means our forefathers were kicked out of every decent country in the world. We are the wretched refuse. We’re underdogs. We’re mutts. … But there’s no animal that’s more faithful, that’s more loyal, more lovable that the mutt. [pause] Who saw Old Yeller? Who cried when Old Yeller got shot at the end? Nobody cried when Old Yeller got shot [raises his hand] I’m sure. I cried my eyes out.” — John (Bill Murray)
“We’re all very, very different, but there is one thing we all have in common. We were all stupid enough to enlist in the army.” — John
In the 1970s, in a “bad economy” much like today, two guys who are down on their luck and out of options join the US Army. John loses his job, car, girlfriend, and apartment all in the same day. His friend, Russell (Ramis) has discovered his easy five-week job to teach English involves people who only know a few swear words and that’s it. They decide to join the Army.
At boot camp, John, Russell and the rest of the guys in their platoon have their hair buzzed (it’s the 70s – most have long hair or even “afros”) and receive basic green uniforms. Sgt. Hulka introduces himself and has each of the men in his platoon introduce themselves and explain why they decided to join the army. It becomes obvious that the entire platoon is, to be frank, a group of screw-ups with few other options.
There is a montage of training scenes, inter cut with scenes of John doing push-ups. A perpetual clown and comedian, he gets on Sgt. Hulka’s nerves immediately. Also at the army training camp is Capt. Stillman (John Larroquette) who enjoys peeking at female officers taking showers, and never listening to anyone. It’s Stillman who orders one of his men to fire a mortar round on the weapons practice field without any co-ordinates. It flies way off course and takes out the climbing test structure and Sgt. Hulka who is sitting on top of it.
Hulka’s men go into town to celebrate their new-found freedom at a mud wrestling expo in a strip bar. They are caught and dragged back to the camp by the MPs. However, John and Russell escape immediate punishment when they are rescued by two female MPs they have been chatting-up throughout the film.
Upon returning to the army training camp, they discover they have three hours to get ready for the parade in front of General Barnicke or the entire platoon will be forced to re-take basic training. Russell convinces everyone they can cram for the test and pass it. He starts training the others, but disagreements break out. John delivers his rousing “Old Yeller” speech and gets everyone working together. They then over-sleep.
When the group reaches the parade grounds, however, John leads them in an unconventional but greatly appreciated drill routine. They earn applause, whistles, and approval from the gathered crowd. The general finds out they finished their training on their own after Sgt. Hulka was injured. He asks for the platoon to be assigned to his secret “EM-50” project. The EM-50 is an “Urban Assault Vehicle” or more obviously, a Winnebago that’s been turned into a tank. The platoon is supposed to be on a good-will tour in Italy.
However, John and Russell get bored while on guard duty. They decide to visit the two female MPs they’ve been chasing throughout the film — even though the girls are in Germany. It might have worked, but Capt. Stillman takes his new girlfriend to see the EM-50, finds it missing and panics. He gets the platoon together to find it, and ignores Sgt. Hulka when he tries to warn him that they’ve gone the wrong way and they end-up heading into Czechoslovakia, where they are captured by the Russians. Sgt. Hulka, who’s realized there was going to be a problem, escapes capture and sends a signal to the EM-50. John, Russell, and the two girls pick up the signal, and they manage to find the platoon, and Sgt. Hulka, and rescue them, returning safely to Germany.
The film concludes with everyone arriving safely at home, and magazine and newspaper headlines are used to do a “where are they now / what happened to…” segment very quickly.
Stripes has a couple of very memorable scenes, notably Murray earnestly giving the “Old Yeller” speech to his fellow enlistees, and the well-choreographed parade ground scene. The Winnebago tank is also funny. The film screams 70s in everything from the clothes and cars to the attitudes, especially towards women. Although it doesn’t currently work as well as some films from the 1970s, and parts of the film are really dated (like the fact that they invade a country that no longer exists) some parts do still work. Both Murray and Ramis are very funny, and the cast is filled it with other very funny actors. Overall it’s now a mediocre film, but it wasn’t quite as painful to watch as I feared it might be.
Recommendation: It’s OK.
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
Next Film: Sunset Boulevard