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Wiseacre underachiever Bill Murray leads a motley crew of dropouts and losers (including Harold Ramis, John Candy and Judge Reinhold) in all manner of parade-ground hijinks in Ivan Reitman's anarchic service comedy.

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Simply put, to see Stripes is to understand the undeniable awesomeness of Bill Murray. The second collaboration between Murray and director Ivan Reitman is the quintessential comedy of the actor's immediate post-Saturday Night Live period, setting his wiseacre-rebel act against the ultimate in stuffy authority: the US military.

Out of work and out of options, John Winger (Murray) convinces his friend Russell Ziskey (the late, great Harold Ramis, Stripes' co-writer) to join the army with him in hopes of getting in shape while avoiding rent. Winger soon becomes the ringleader of a motley crew of dropouts and losers among his fellow enlistees (including John Candy and Judge Reinhold), a thorn in the side of steely drill sergeant Hulka (Warren Oates), and, along with Ziskey, makes nice with a pair of pretty female MPs (Sean Young and P.J. Soles). After a momentous graduation from basic training — with Murray leading a most idiosyncratic parade drill — Winger and Ziskey are stationed in Europe and end up undertaking a daring rescue when their girlfriends get captured behind the Iron Curtain.

Stripes captures the Murray in peak early form, transitioning from his improv-based work in Meatballs to the kind of leading-funnyman effect he'd have in Ghostbusters, also directed by Reitman. In that sense, the movie is a key step on the way to what would be a shared masterpiece for both director and star. Yet Reitman's economic direction on Stripes>/em> gives the film its own relentless comic pace. As Roger Ebert wrote admiringly: "(Stripes) is an anarchic slob movie, a celebration of all that is irreverent, reckless, foolhardy, undisciplined, and occasionally scatological. It's a lot of fun."

Ivan Reitman

Comedy titan Ivan Reitman has been associated with some of the biggest box office successes in Canadian cinema. He produced David Cronenberg's breakthrough features — Shivers (74) and Rabid (76) — and went on to produce and direct Meatballs (79), Bill Murray's star-making vehicle and one the highest grossing Canadian features ever made. Reitman's off-Broadway production of The National Lampoon Show evolved into the Universal feature National Lampoon's Animal House (78), a huge box office hit which changed the face of comedy and gave SNL actor John Belushi his breakout film role. Reitman soon built an impressive career as one of the most reliable director-producers in Hollywood, creating a string of hit-films including Stripes (81) and Ghostbusters (84). His son, Jason Reitman, has kept the love of comedy in the family. He is the director of Thank You For Smoking (05), and the Oscar-nominated features Juno (07) and Up in the Air (09).

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