By Brad Laidman | December 5, 2001

Anita: You sleep until noon and then you watch Rocky and Bullwinkle and then you drive your cab what a couple hours a day and then you come home and order out food and then you play those stupid Tito Puente albums until two in the morning.
Winger: Tito Puente is going to be dead and you’re going to say “I’ve been listening to him for years and I think he’s fabulous!”
Tito Puente did die recently and all I could think about was that silly tossed off line from Bill Murray in Stripes, and I know I’m not the only one. Back in my neighborhood if you couldn’t quote nearly every one of Murray’s words from this movie, you just weren’t cool. “Hey chicks in New York are paying top dollar for this garbage.” Bill Murray is as funny here as anyone has ever been funny and I can’t see anyone else getting away with half the things he says here much less have them sound so cool and inspired. “I just wish I hadn’t drunk so much of that cough syrup this morning.” He was so cool that Tom Hanks did a dead on impression of him in Bachelor Party down to the sexual kitchen utensils. His John Winger is the best part of every sad sack not ready to grow up and get a job or put up with these authority figures impulse any guy has ever had. He even has a cool loser piano theme that arises every time he screws up. The plot here is as old and original as any number of Lewis and Martin mediocrities. It’s practically the same thing as No Time For Sergeants, Gomer Pyle USMC, or Beetle Bailey with a little more attitude. Two hang dog losers join the Army and the Army might not survive them.
Murray is John Winger. He has a really bad day (He is ripped off, he abandons his cab on a bridge, has his car repossessed, and his hot model girl friend walks out on him.), sees an Army commercial and decides to be all he can be. Because this is a buddy movie and he had nothing else better going on that day pal Russell Ziskey (Harold Ramis) joins too. When they come to their senses, they realize the Army is actually hard and boring work. Who knew? Bad a*s Sergeant Hulka isn’t amused with their attitude either. You know how it’s going to go. It’s the old watch them train for half a movie and get them into battle for the rest. It’s probably not a cool thing to say Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket was just a reworking of Stripes, but there you have it. You decide which was dumber Viet Nam or John Laroquette slipping into Czechoslovakia after the boys take out the EM50 to have it washed.
I’ve seen every scene in this movie a hundred times and I’m still floored by how cool and funny it all is. John Candy mud wrestling like ten women in a topless club, “Do Wah Diddy”, “Lighten Up Francis!”, the big we’re Americans rally speech, the razzle dazzle graduation ceremony, Murray and PJ Soles coming out of that chest “Well that was interesting!”, and those poor Czech border patrolmen played by Joe Flaherty and Nick Toth spilling coffee and “repelling the Yankee horde”. I wouldn’t trade any of that stuff for all of Dancing With Wolves.
Harold Ramis and John Candy, looking and acting like Curly more than ever, are pretty funny themselves, but Murray was on another planet in comparison. It’s hard to write a pretty good movie script but when you have Bill Murray at his peak with so much attitude and cool they could have filmed the Phone Book and it would have somehow worked out. It’s all about how he grabs his girlfriend to shield her from an explosion and cops a feel at the same time. The first R rated movie I ever snuck into and there lot’s of nudity in it too. The musical score is almost as rewarding as the movie. “Don’t go! All of the plants are gonna die!”

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