A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that 1981's Stripes is comic mayhem with a young Bill Murray reprising the cheeky hapless character he created for television's Saturday Night Live and in Meatballs and Caddyshack on the big screen. This time, Murray takes his deft comic arrogance into the U.S. military, dragging BFF and frequent playmate Harold Ramis into the fray along with him. It's typical fish-out-of-water fare, with some rapid-fire cartoon action; sexy, big-breasted women (some of those big breasts are bare); and enough bawdy language ("f--k," "s--t," "p---y," "ass") to earn MPAA's R rating. Slapstick and exaggerated violence include a mini-war with armed Russian troops (explosions, gunfire, flamethrowers, armored tanks) and the usual falls, bonks, and mishaps. The "ditzy," voluptuous mud-wrestling "girls" are almost balanced by some coolheaded, female army MPS, but woman-as-sex-object scenes tip the scales in 1981's direction. The film's often-funny, juvenile humor would appeal to even young teens, but the language and nudity make it problematic for those audiences.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
STRIPES opens on a particularly bad day in the life of John Winger (Bill Murray). He's quit his job; his car has been repossessed; his girlfriend has left him -- all of which he's brought upon himself. Seeking solace from his lifelong buddy, Russell (Harold Ramis), it's a time of self-pity and self-blame. John acknowledges that he's worthless. At that perfect moment, a recruiting ad for the U.S. Army appears on television before them. Its message is "You're going nowhere!" That resonates with John. The army is exactly what he needs and what Russell, an amiable if unambitious English teacher, needs, too. They sign, hoping for discipline, duty, honor, courage, and, of course, exotic travel. Alas, basic training is not at all what they expected. Instead they've joined a platoon of oddballs and misfits, including "Ox" (John Candy), an obese blowhard. Their sergeant is demanding but fair -- and is fair game for John Winger's comic wrath. They mess up. They meet beautiful MPs and fall in love. They mess up again. And, finally, in an adventure of farcical proportions, they drag their whole platoon, their sergeant, their captain, and their girlfriends into an armed battle with a Russian battalion in Czechoslovakia. Huh?
Is it any good?
Bill Murray is outrageous enough; the fish-out-of-water plot is bizarre enough; and the film is well-made enough to feel fresh and funny decades after it was made. Other than some old-school, "ditzy," half-dressed women and a few stale fat jokes, it's worth a look, if only to see a very idiosyncratic movie icon in his earliest incarnation. And everyone works hard to earn the laughs. Many of the scenes are known to have been improvised, with Murray, Ramis, and Candy in top form, so it must have been great fun to make. That shows, too. Sadly, it's one of those films that chose to keep the language salty and show off bouncing breasts, so it rightly earned its "R" rating. Appropriate for older teens and grown-ups only.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how the women in this film are portrayed. Can you discern a shift in attitude since it was made in 1981? Which scenes are dated in their depictions of women?
What techniques do the filmmakers use to indicate that the violent action sequences in this film are not to be taken seriously? How do music, editing, and exaggeration help set the tone?
Without its edgy content, this film might have had strong appeal for both tweens and teens. How does your family deal with comic films that have issues such as language and nudity? Do your parents make exceptions, or are those movies always off-limits?
If you could remake this movie, how would you do it?
- In theaters: June 26, 1981
- On DVD or streaming: November 10, 1998
- Cast: Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, John Candy
- Director: Ivan Reitman
- Studio: Columbia Pictures
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: Adventures, Friendship, Misfits and Underdogs
- Run time: 106 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: sexuality/nudity, language and some drug use
- Last updated: November 2, 2019
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