Retro Review | Stripes (1981)

Retro Review | Stripes (1981)

In the 80s comedy Stripes, Bill Murray and Harold Ramis join the army when life gets them down.

Regular readers are probably aware, I’m a big Ghostbusters fan. I saw the film at the cinema for my 6th birthday with my best friend at the time Stephen.

So as my film nerd credentials grew, I learned more about the film. Ghostbusters starred Bill Murray and Harold Ramis who also co-wrote the film with the third co-star Dan Akroyd. Elmer Bernstien composed the soundtrack and it was directed by Ivan Reitman.

I knew of the film Stripes which I discovered whilst browsing for films, looking through the VHS cassettes. Yes, this was a long time ago. I’ve dabbled with the idea of purchasing it when I’ve seen it cheap. It stars Bill Murray, that’s worth a gamble, right?

Just like Ghostbusters, Stripes also stars Harold Ramis with a script he also co-wrote. Elmer Bernstein was on musical duties with Ivan Reitman directing. Surely this winning combo works for previous films?

Stripes is the story of John (Murray) and his friend Russell (Ramis). John has had a bad day, he’s lost his job, his girlfriend and his apartment. Russell doesn’t seem to be faring much better. He’s taken up an English teaching job for foreigners but all he can get them to learn is the latest catchy disco tunes.

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John convinces Russell that the answer to their problems is to join the army. They’ll get free clothes, board and food, what could go wrong?

Well, as it turns out quite a bit.

The guys and most of their platoon don’t get along with their drill instructor Sgt. Hulka. They’re the worst platoon of the whole base but due to a comedy of errors, then end up looking after a top-secret project. A new army vehicle code named the EM50.

Now this is labelled as a war comedy but unfortunately it didn’t have me laughing out loud. At most, I think I chuckled a few times. Stripes is very much a comedy of its time with gratuitous female nudity and a lot of feeble humour.

The “bad guy” of the film is Capt. Stillman (John Larroquette) who is the top man of military base. But as this is a comedy, he is incompetent at his job. I know this is supposed to be funny but I found his character to be irksome.

Although, there are a couple of notable appearances from Lance LeGault as Col. Glass. Anyone of my generation will most likely remember him as another famous military officer, that of Col. Decker from The A-Team.

For myself, most of the humour comes from Murray and Ramis. Friends onscreen and in real life, a lot of the humour feels improvised and this real friendship makes it work for the better.

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There’s also a minor part in the name of Ox played by John Candy. He really shines here in the few moments he has. I’ll admit I don’t think I’ve seen anything starring Candy except for Spaceballs and I need to change that after being reminded of his performance.

The only female characters are two military police officers played by Sean Young and P.J. Soles who fall in love (rather quickly) with our two heroes John and Russell. As this is an early 80s boys comedy, the ladies come without any deep characterization, they are simply a love interest.

As you can probably guess by my tone, coming from the team that would go onto to produce Ghostbusters a few years later, I was expecting something better than this.

I’m glad that I’ve seen Stripes, mainly for Murray and Ramis performances, but I’m unlikely to watch it again.

It made me smile and chuckle a few times. Good performances from its main leads but not much else. 2½ stars.


John Abbitt

About the author | John Abbitt

@UKFilmNerd | John loves film, and he used to write for his own website, The Tydirium Hangar Bay, in the late 1990s. Whilst that website became lost in the passages of time, John's love of film did not. He's back, writing for The Unheard Nerd.