John Winger is an underachieving slob who has lost his job, his car and his girlfriend all in the course of a single morning. His somewhat unorthodox solution is to join the army and bring a friend with him.
Bill Murray has insincerity down to an art form, as the smart-aleck Winger who clashes with the hard case Sergeant Hulka from day one. John Candy and Harold Ramis lead a great supporting cast that makes up Winger's platoon full of losers. John Larroquette also performs well as the idiot base commander who is more interested in chasing women than managing his responsibilities.
From the beginning, Winger is a square peg in a round hole, and while his friends like him (sort of), the people in authority certainly don't. Winger does, however, have a certain magnetism as an individual who is willing to challenge authority, and becomes the "leader" of the platoon when Sergeant Hulka is injured in a training accident. Predictably (yet hilariously), the platoon comes together and pulls off a wonderful performance at their graduation, earning them a choice assignment, which they promptly screw up, and then turn themselves into heroes.
While certainly not a classic of the american cinema, this movie is a classic of '80s comedy, and should be welcomed into any DVD collection, especially for [the item price].
The pressure is on for Hulka and his men, when Colonel Glass (Lance LeGault) informs Captain Stillman (John Larroquette) that the "General" is looking for a squad of crack new recruits to man a special project, and Hulka's boys have been chosen. The project involves a secret weapon, an "urban assault" vehicle, that is to be unveiled on their base in Germany shortly. But first, Hulka has to get his troops through basic, which will be a minor miracle in itself, even though Winger goes "Out on a limb," and offers to be their leader. And things proceed just as badly as you would expect, not only on the obstacle course, but off, when Winger and Ziskey get mixed up with a couple of female M.Ps., Stella (P.J. Soles) and Louise (Sean Young), and Ox gets coerced (by Winger, of course) into taking part in a female mud-wrestling event at a local night spot.
Along the way, Reitman sets up the situations for some serious laughs, and keeps it all on track with a good pace and excellent timing. Murray is terrific as Winger, with a performance that puts a generous helping of "dry" in the expression "dry humor." He plays it all so straight, so serious, from his quips and one liners (watching a TV promo for the Army, "This looks pretty good--"), to his full blown inspirational speech to the troops on the night before their final test at basic training ("We're all very different people. We're not Spartans, we're not Watusi, we're Americans, with a capital 'A.' That means our forefathers were thrown out of every decent country in the world--"), that it makes it all the more hilarious. He never tries to be "funny," or fish for laughs, which is really what makes this movie work so well. Murray is perhaps the best in the business at playing this kind of humor and putting it across (Ben Stiller would be a close second).
Harold Ramis and John Candy also make invaluable contributions that make this one fly. Watch Ramis, reacting to what Candy is saying as "Ox," as explains why he joined the Army; it makes what Ox is saying twice as funny. And Ox, talking about what a "shy guy" he is, and how "You may have noticed, I have this weight problem--" And Oates, as well, gives a singular performance that makes Hulka a real person, beyond the typical stereotype of the hard-nosed D.I. His portrayal, taken out of context, is one that would stand up even in more serious fare, like Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket."
The supporting cast includes Judge Reinhold (Elmo), John Voldstad (Stillman's Aide), Roberta Leighton (Anita), Antone Pagan (Hector), Fran Ryan (Dowager in Cab), Dave Thomas (M.C.) and William Lucking (Recruiter). From beginning to end, "Stripes" is a fun-filled laugh riot that's filled with memorable scenes and a plethora of lines you'll be quoting forever. This is one you can watch over and over again, with a bunch of characters you're never going to forget. Winger and Ziskey, Ox, Psycho, Cruiser. These are the guys who Demi Moore, as Galloway in "A Few Good Men," could have been talking about when, in response to the question of why she likes these guys so much, replies, "Because they stand on a wall, and they say nothing is going to hurt you tonight, not on my watch..." It kind of makes you think. Or, as Cruiser might say, "Yeah... About what?"