It's sometimes hard to revisit an old favourite from childhood as their previous appeal tends to get lost in the intervening years and I'm sorry to say that Stripes is one of those experiences. An anarchic spoof of military life this could be best described as a Buck Privates or even a Carry On Sergeant for the '80s, but Stripes is very much a 1980s movie complete with the nudity, sleazy humour and cliched stereotypical and somewhat offensive characterisation that populated that era.
Yes, Stripes has dated rather badly.
Stars Bill Murray and Harold Ramis would, along with director Ivan Reitman, go on to score BIG in 1984 with Ghostbusters, but Stripes - a surprising hit of 1981 in the National Lampoon mould - certainly paved the way for that subsequent success taking them from SNL to Hollywood as well as helping to shape the Police Academy series that certainly mimicked the themes and humour explored here.
Bill Murray stars as the slobbish John Winger who, on something of a whim, decides to enlist and persuades his somewhat wimpy but dryly funny friend Ziskey (Ramis) to join up with him in a platoon that includes a hard as nails grunting cameo from the legendary Warren Oates as the drill sergeant, the ever funny John Candy, gawky Judge Reinhold, a pair of female MP's played by PJ Soles and Sean Young who are saddled with the eyecandy roles rather than any realistic depiction of women in the military - seriously, no offence to either of them, but the film makes them act like giggling, jiggling shampoo models rather than military police officers and it's indicative of the script's attitude towards women that Soles' character's eventual fate after becoming a military heroine is to pose for Penthouse magazine.
Stripes also struggles from being a movie of three parts; the slacker opening which presents Murray's Winger as a down on his luck cabbie dumped by his girlfiend and Ramis attempting to teach English to immigrants, the middle half which is essentially boot camp and ends in a classic passing out parade and the final act which becomes a ridiculous behind enemy lines (America, Fuck Yeah!) rescue mission that turns our unlikely, anarchic soldiers into revered heroes. In many ways I would have actually preferred Stripes without its main military plot and, for a film about life in the army, that's got to be a serious flaw.
Stripes gets three stars out of five simply for the talented cast and some lingering affection, but if I'd seen this for the first time today I think I'd struggle to give it a two and a half.