Peacetime is a threat to the all-American army movie. The tradition in which the idiosyncratic citizen is shaped, through half-crazy discipline he humorously protests, into something neat and efficient makes sense only when there's a war on.
When there's no war or draft, and if military life is unbearable because the officers are insane -- what army movie shows reasonable officers having to deal with nutty soldiers? -- it's hard to understand what the characters are doing there. In "Private Benjamin" the idea was put forth that a discouraged person could sign up in a weak moment and be stuck; this has been used again for "Stripes," in which a fed-up cab driver not only enlists but persuades a teacher friend to do so, too. It's a roundabout way of corraling exactly the sort of "sensitive" types the draft handed over to the army as a matter of course.
Even weaker is the substitute for a military threat -- a Czech border patrol going berserk, their defeat being treated as a major American triumph rather than the unfair and unwise provoking of an international incident.
These tedious exercises were all done so that "Stripes" could indulge in the soldierly tradition of growing and griping. Bill Murray and Harold Ramis (who also wrote the screenplay with Len Blum and Dan Goldberg) play the conventional enlisted men, with the exception that the usual characteristic of being sex-starved is turned over to women Military Police, who are easily led by their insatiability -- kitchen implements are required for their satisfaction -- to betray their duties.
These unfortunate innovations aside, the film, directed by Ivan Reitman, has moments when the old army joke is done well. Reason against discipline is always funny -- hero to sergeant: "I know I'm speaking for the entire platoon when I say that the run should be postponed until the platoon is better rested" -- but the kicker, that there really is a reason for the discipline, is necessary to the premise.
STRIPES -- At the AMC Carrollton, AMC Skyline, Crofton Cinema, Dupont Circle, Laurel Cinema, Loehmann's Plaza, NTI Marlow, NTI Tysons Center, Roth's Seven Locks and Springfield Mall.