Tag Archives: Bill Murray

The Farrelly Brother’s Osmosis Jones

ScienceWorld once did a colourful exhibition called Grossology, in which various parts of human anatomy are presented in garish, cartoony displays. The Farrelly Brother’s Osmosis Jones reminds me quite a bit of that, an inspired, juvenile little creation that seems to have slipped through the cracks. Focusing on the human body, or rather one human body in the form of out of shape, sloppy schmuck Bill Murray, it’s one of those rare half live action, half animated flicks, a concept which I love but one that only works out if you do it right. It worked magic in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, it train-wrecked in Rocky & Bullwinkle, and went more middle of the road in stuff like Cool World and The Pagemaster. Here it works pretty damn well, if a little better on the animated side, where most of the focus is put anyways. Murray is Frank, a walking disaster whose lifestyle reflects the culmination of the Farrelly’s career in terms of utmost vulgarity. Zooming inside his body, a sassy technicolor world emerges, sentient forces living in infrastructure not unlike our own, albeit peppered with so many delightful jokes, gags (some which will kick the reflex into action) and word-plays it’s hard to keep up. Chris Rock plays a lively white blood cell cop who responds when Frank eats a hard boiled egg that’s home to a deadly virus, and runs all about the City Of Frank chasing it down, joined by a robotic cherry flavoured Cold Pill (David Hyde Pierce). City Hall is Cerebellum Hall in the Brain, the bowels resemble skid row, Mafia bacteria thugs reside in the armpit, and you get the idea. The imagination runs wild here, if a little grotesque in areas. The live action bits suffer in terms of writing and realism, they just feel like a queasy SNL skit and never have enough weight. It’s non stop fun when the animation kicks in though, a slightly off-Disney style that stimulates the screen visually and pops with every colour combination you can imagine. My favourite has to be Laurence Fishburne as Thrax, the deadly virus attacking Frank’s nervous system, a gangly, evil eyed freak who sports purple dreadlocks, a contagious Freddy Krueger style index finger and enjoys his job a bit too much. William Shatner is great as sleazy Mayor Phlemming too. It’s not as much fun as stuff like InnerSpace, and the live action clashes with the animated world in places where it should seamlessly mesh, but it has one admirable quality in spades: imagination. The jokes and ideas within Frank’s body are hurled at you a mile a minute, and you’d need to watch it at least twice to catch every little barb and dad-joke worthy pun. Good times.

-Nate Hill

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Problem Children with Big Eyes who make Biopics that’ll give you Goosebumps: An Interview with Larry Karaszewski by Kent Hill

As the child from a working class family in South Bend, Indiana, Larry was introduced to the movies by his father. He was not restricted as to what he could watch, so he watched it all. After high school he debated between pursuing either a career in comedy or a life in pictures.

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Larry opted for the movies, and soon found himself at USC. It was there that he would meet Scott Alexander, and together they would form not only a friendship, but also the foundation of a prolific career as a successful screenwriting duo.

After (and though it launched a trilogy of films and even an animated series) Problem Child, the screenwriters struggled to find work. It seemed as though they had been typecast buy their work and so looked to independently produce a biopic they were working on about the notoriously bad filmmaker Ed Wood.

As fate would have it, word of the project reached director Tim Burton. After expressing interest, the boys would have to hammer out a screenplay in double-quick fashion. They succeeded, and this, the first in a string of biographical efforts, would re-establish them in Hollywood and from it they would carve out their place in the genre and become, in many ways, its ‘go-to guys.’

Biopics of Larry Flynt and Andy Kaufman would follow, seeing the boys team up with Academy Award winner Milos Forman. They would go on to re-team with Tim Burton as well as dabble in a variety on different genres including everything from a kid-friendly version of James Bond to horrific hotel rooms were you’ll spend a night or perhaps even an eternity.

Larry and Scott have garnered the highest accolades the industry has to offer and continue to deliver. While trying to get a hold of Larry for this interview I caught him riding high on his recent wave of success, so I would just have to wait for the tide to turn. I am however, glad that I did. It was, as it is ever, a privilege to chat with a man whose work I heartily admire. I love the films he has written and I look forward to the projects that he and Scott have in the pipeline.

Without further ado I present, the award-winning screenwriter and all-round nice guy . . . the one, the only, Larry Karaszewski.

WHERE THE BUFFALO ROAM – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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Many filmmakers over the years have tried to make films out of Hunter S. Thompson’s books but the first completed effort did not surface until 1980 with Where The Buffalo Roam. It is not a good film. And yet, I find myself oddly fascinated by this deeply flawed effort. Perhaps it is Bill Murray’s truly inspired one-note performance and the stories of his deep immersion into the role. So deep that he has never fully been able to shake Thompson’s persona since. From articles that appeared at the time of its release, the project seemed doomed from the get-go with a first-time director clearly out of his depth and a problematic screenplay that Murray and Thompson tried in vain to improve during filming. The end result speaks for itself.

The film begins with a situation familiar to anyone who’s read Thompson’s work – under pressure to get an article done by a strict deadline for Blast magazine (aka Rolling Stone) for his long-suffering editor Marty Lewis (Bruno Kirby wasted in a thankless role). Up against it, he decides to write about his friend and attorney at law Carl Lazlo, Esq. (Peter Boyle). The film proceeds to flash back to San Francisco, 1968 and Thompson is holed up in a hospital room with a Wild Turkey I.V. drip (nice touch) and his own private nurse. Lazlo shows up (through the window no less) and springs his client for a road trip in a muscle car that bears more than a passing resemblance to the one James Taylor and Dennis Wilson drove in Two-Lane Blacktop (1971).

After this promising start, the film stalls with a bit where Thompson pretends to draw a lady’s blood which is pointless and painfully unfunny. Although, things perk up slightly in the next scene where he attends a court case that Lazlo is working. In the courtroom, he proceeds to mix up a Bloody Mary while he waits for the proceedings to begin, which is fairly amusing. Lazlo’s defense of four hippies stops the film cold. It is supposed to show his righteous fight for the underdog and the futility of working within the system. It is supposed to set up the struggle between the counterculture and the establishment, which epitomized the 1960s. Instead, it just comes across as dull and preachy.

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jumps to Los Angeles, 1972 as Thompson covers the Superbowl as depicted in the book Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72. After a tedious bit where he checks in, the film reaches its funniest point (not a hard feat, mind you) as Thompson stages his own Superbowl in his hotel room. He corrals a maid and a room service waiter into playing an impromptu game and, in the process, trash the room in a humorous scene that is the closest this film gets to realizing Thompson’s writing that was often filled with absurdly comical passages.

However, the film stalls yet again when, surprise, Lazlo shows up to take Thompson (and us) away from fun and sidetracks the narrative with painfully obvious political and social commentary as the crazy attorney tries to get his client to join a band of revolutionaries. The whole sequence makes no sense and is a total bore but does make you thankful for the fast-forward button. At this point, I really appreciated what a great job Terry Gilliam and Johnny Depp did adapting Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) to the big screen.

Fortunately, Thompson doesn’t have much time for Lazlo’s revolution and splits. The film segues into an amusing example of one of Thompson’s infamous college lecture appearances where he conducts a rowdy Q&A session to an adoring crowd of students. It is here where he utters one of his most famous pearls of wisdom: “I hate to advocate weird chemicals or insanity to anyone but they’ve always worked for me.” For anyone who has seen vintage footage of Thompson at one of these college campus appearances, the film’s recreation is spot on – a rare moment of verisimilitude.

Where the Buffalo Roams
ends on a high note as it traces Thompson’s misadventures on the campaign trail, pitting him against the elite press corp. as he invades the plane carrying respectable journalists from newspapers like the Washington Post, much to the consternation of a White House representative (played by Animal House alumni Mark Metcalf). Not surprisingly, Thompson gets banished to the “zoo” plane with all of the technicians. It’s a chaotic, noisy crowd where Thompson fits right in. He proceeds to get a straight-laced journalist (played wonderfully by Rene Auberjonois) whacked out of his skull on prescription drugs (he’s later found in the plane bathroom singing, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”). This allows Thompson to steal his press credentials, which he uses to meet President Richard Nixon in a bathroom where he proceeds to freak the man out with his Gonzo behavior.

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Bill Murray certainly has Thompson’s distinctive voice and unique physical mannerisms down cold. In the opening scene, he nails the man’s tendency to sudden outbursts of anger and conveys his love and use of guns. Thompson also had a tendency to mutter to himself, often dictating into a tape recorder, which Murray does quite well. Best of all, the comedian spouts many Thompson-erisms at certain points that make you wonder if they were the parts that Murray and Thompson rewrote or that Murray, channeling Thompson, improvised. But for all of this hard work it still feels like a caricature of Thompson, or rather his public persona, like the Uncle Duke character in Doonesbury, but it is still fun to watch. Murray’s performance does contain moments of inspired lunacy, like the hospital room scene and the hotel Superbowl sequence. He does the best with what he has to work with but it’s an uphill battle and he’s constantly thwarted by the unorganized screenplay and ho-hum direction.

In the late 1970s, Thompson’s agent Lynn Nesbit called him one day and told him that movie producer Thom Mount wanted to pay $100,000 for the rights to “The Banshee Screams for Buffalo Meat,” a eulogy for his attorney Oscar Zeta Acosta, which appeared in the October 1977 issue Rolling Stone magazine. Thompson agreed to have it optioned without seeing a script figuring that the film would never get made because Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas had been optioned several times and never made. He remembers, “Then all of a sudden there was some moment of terrible horror when I realized they were going to make the movie.” In 1978, illustrator Ralph Steadman (who had worked with Thompson on numerous occasions) was asked to create a poster for the film. He used a drawing entitled, Spirit of Gonzo as the basis but this incarnation disappeared and in 1979 he created a completely different poster.

Thompson met with the film’s screenwriter John Kaye but felt that the man understood more than what was in the script. “I was very disappointed in the script. It sucks — a bad, dumb, low-level, low-rent script.” By his own admission, Thompson admitted that he signed away having any control so that he couldn’t be blamed for the end result. In the early drafts, Lazlo’s surname was Mendoza but this was changed after Nosotros, a group of Chicano actors and filmmakers, threatened to generate controversy if the character was played by Anglo actor Peter Boyle.

Before principal photography began, director Art Linson took a four-month crash course on directing. Steadman observed the first-time filmmaker on the set and said that it was “pretty obvious that he was in no frame of mind to catch the abandoned pure essence of Gonzo madness, which can only happen in uncontrolled conditions.” However, Steadman also felt that Linson’s “fanaticism for the subject he was trying to portray was undoubtedly there, and his sincerity, too,” but that the director was under the impression that the film was going to be a runaway hit before he’d even begun filming it and therefore refused to take any chances with the material.

While making Where the Buffalo Roam, Murray hung out frequently with Thompson. They were known to pull some wild stunts, like the time, at Thompson’s Aspen, Colorado home, after many drinks and arguing about who was the better escape artist, the writer tied the comedian to a chair and threw him into the swimming pool. Murray nearly drowned before Thompson pulled him out. The comedian also hung out with Steadman, who gave Murray his impressions and observations of Thompson’s mannerisms. According to Steadman, within two weeks of Thompson being on set, Murray had transformed into him.

Just before principal photography began, Murray became apprehensive because of the shortcomings of the script. Kaye claims that Thompson and Murray changed parts of it during filming and, at that point, he chose to no longer be involved. Linson did allow Murray, with Thompson’s help, to add lines on the set. Years later, Thompson said that he and Murray wrote and they shot several different beginnings and endings for the film but none of them were used. Murray and Thompson continued to be concerned with the film’s lack of continuity and in early 1980 added voiceover narration. Where the Buffalo Roam was sneak-previewed in late March and the last two scenes and most of the narration were missing. Murray was reportedly furious. Universal ended up shooting a new ending and three days before release, a press screening was canceled because of editing problems.

Thompson even served as a consultant on Where the Buffalo Roam but this did little to translate the author’s warped vision to the big screen. While watching the film, it becomes readily evident that, despite Murray’s inspired performance, Kaye and Linson had no idea what Thompson’s books were trying to say. The film seems more like a collection of rather tame highlights from the man’s work, including Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72, The Great Shark Hunt and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Where the Buffalo Roam owes more to the sensibilities of Animal House (1978), with its goofy humor, than Thompson’s savage political satire. Mount also produced Animal House and ended up casting a few of the supporting actors from that film in this one. With Terry Gilliam’s adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, we laugh along with Thompson and his attorney but at a certain point the film makes it a point to show that these guys aren’t very nice and are quite destructive – to themselves and those around them. It is this darkness that is missing from Linson’s film, which is a light-hearted romp, a slob comedy.

In an interesting post-script, Murray had a tough time shaking Thompson’s persona after filming. Murray made the film between the fourth and fifth seasons of Saturday Night Live. When the fifth season began, the comedian was still channeling Thompson, showing up to meetings with the long black cigarette holder and sunglasses. One of the show’s writers said, “Billy was not Bill Murray, he was Hunter Thompson. You couldn’t talk to him without talking to Hunter Thompson.” Early in the fifth season of the show, Murray sometimes looked bored on-air and was described as acting like “a tyrant” backstage by some. He seemed to be angry at everyone and very uncooperative. After the film was released and tanked at the box office, as well as being trashed by the critics, the studio quickly pulled it from theaters. Murray started to act more like himself and no one brought up the strange period where he acted like Thompson. Years later, Murray reflected on the film: “I rented a house in L.A. with a guest house that Hunter lived in. I’d work all day and stay up all night with him; I was strong in those days. I took on another persona and that was tough to shake. I still have Hunter in me.”

Where-the-Buffalo-RoamAfter the film’s dismal reception, no other adaptations were completed. It took actor Johnny Depp and his friendship with Thompson to get any kind of serious attempt at an adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas even considered. In the end, I think that the problems I have with Where the Buffalo Roam are best summed up in a speech Thompson gives at the end of the film where he says, “it just never got weird enough for me.” Amen, my brother.

THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

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There’s always a certain amount of trepidation when a filmmaker like Wes Anderson, known for making intimate and personal films, starts making movies on a more ambitious scale – bigger budgets and movie stars in an attempt to appeal to a larger audience – that he will lose all of the qualities that made his movies so interesting in the first place. Easily his most accomplished film, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) merged his stylized dialogue and quirky characters with elaborate sets and action set pieces in an exotic locale.

After his best friend is eaten by a Jaguar shark, famed oceanographer Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) vows revenge. The problem is that the fish is endangered and he’s having trouble raising money for the expedition. He also meets Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson) who may be his son by a woman he met 30 years ago. So, he convinces the young man to join his expedition in an attempt to make up for three decades of neglect.

Ever since Bottle Rocket (1996), Anderson’s movies feature a water motif in some form or another, whether it is Anthony and Inez’s first kiss in a swimming pool in Bottle Rocket or Max Fischer’s desire to build an aquarium in Rushmore (1998). With Life Aquatic, Anderson finally realizes his fascination with water head on by crafting an homage to Jacques Cousteau.

Life Aquatic also continues Anderson’s thematic pre-occupation with flawed father figures and their sons. There is the burnt out Mr. Blume and Max in Rushmore and Royal and his children in The Royal Tenenbaums (2001). In Life Aquatic, Steve tries to reconnect with Ned in the hopes that they will bond while hunting for the Jaguar shark. Like Blume and Royal, the world seems to have forgotten about Steve. He’s washed up and hit rock bottom now that his best friend has been killed.

The film also continues Anderson’s structuring of his movies into segments. In Rushmore, the story was broken down into months serving as acts in a play, with Tenenbaums, it was chapters as in a book and now with Life Aquatic it is days as Steve’s mission is being filmed for a new documentary. This structure reinforces the magical, almost-fairy tale feeling that Anderson creates in every one of his films by drawing attention to itself as a fanciful tale.

Bill Murray turns in another excellent, low-key performance as the melancholy Zissou. With his beard and gruff, macho attitude, Steve comes across as a Hemingway-esque figure with a dash of Cousteau. And yet, no matter how extravagant things get, Murray always keeps things grounded with his sparse performance. Over the course of his career, the comedian has been gradually refining his style of acting. He gained fame in broad comedies like Stripes (1981) and Ghostbusters (1984) but has fine-tuned his style to a less-is-more approach with movies like Rushmore and Lost in Translation (2003). His turn in Life Aquatic is just the right blend of comedy and pathos.

Most films don’t warrant much thought or discussion, but Anderson gets more and more interesting with each new effort. They are filled with so many fascinating little details crammed in each and every frame, repeated thematic motifs and minor characters who often wander in and out of the background of scenes. His movies are magical, existing in their own unique worlds and bursting with ideas that are almost too much to absorb in one sitting. As was the allure of David Lynch’s short-lived T.V. show, Twin Peaks, one of the appeals of Anderson’s films is that we want to be in these quirky worlds he creates and we want to know his characters. We want to lose ourselves in his universe and the beauty of DVD is that they allow us to revisit the worlds of his movies any time we want.

Anderson is not only more ambitious in terms of structure and scale but also with the visuals of Life Aquatic. Shot in Italy, he utilizes the striking landscape of the country for a sun-kissed warm color scheme of yellows and browns. There are also the striking images that linger long after the film ends: the glowing jellyfish on a beach at night and the stop-motion animated fish (by Nightmare Before Christmas’ Henry Selick) and portrays them so vividly and in an exciting way.

Anderson’s career had been building up to this film. With The Royal Tenenbaums, he was able to juggle a large cast of name stars while still maintaining his artistic integrity. With Life Aquatic, he continued to use stars but upped the ante in production values and scope. However, he did not lose the intimate feeling that all of his movies possess. No matter how ambitious or big the scale, his films have hand-crafted feel to them. One gets the feeling that Anderson cares about every detail and every aspect and it is this personal touch that makes his movies so unique.

The Jungle Book: A Review by Nate Hill

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Prepare your eyes for maximum bogglement, work out your abs so you don’t bust a gut laughing, and most importantly, dust off that childlike sense of wonder before going to see Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, boldly and lovingly retold by Jon Favreau in what is the most flat out exciting, adventurous film of the year thus far. The director pulls  off a balancing act between palpable tension, character interactions that come straight from the heart and land squarely in ours, and some of the most believable, jaw dropping CGI I have ever seen on screen. The animals look so impressive and lifelike that after seeing them I shelved away some of my inherent reservations about computer generated effects as a dominant force in a piece, and simply gave in. The atmosphere is lush, intoxicating and deeply detailed, with a naturalistic feel and tone. Young Neel Sethi is tasked with being the only fully human component, and is perfect. His interactions seem real and rehearsed, immersing the viewer further into the visuals. Mowgli is a young man cub, found on the edge of the jungle by the panther Bagheera (stately, compassionate Ben Kingsley) and given to a wolf pack to be raised by alpha Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) and Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o). Not all in the animal kingdom are receiving of this man cub, especially a terrifying Bengal tiger called Shere Khan, given the rumbling tones of Idris Elba, inspiring fear in animals and audience alike. He has a rocky relationship with man, and wants Mowgli dead. Bagheera takes him far into the jungle, where they are separated and Mowgli’s adventure truly begins. He wanders into the path of Kaa (a slithery Scarlett Johansson) a monstrous, seductive python, and is taken under the wing of Baloo, an adult Winnie the poo voiced by Bill Murray. Murray is one of the film’s great delights, and as soon as he shows up we forget about all the menace and threat which preceded his arrival, and are swept up into his affable, lounging lifestyle and brightly colored neck of the woods. Murray clearly ad libbed a lot of Baloo’s dialogue, and anything he didn’t he still gives that unmistakable, winking ‘Murray’ twinge that I so love. Mowgli’s adventure continues, as he stays one step ahead of Shere Khan and is visited by the king of the monkeys, a twenty foot tall, lumbering orangutan named Louie, voiced with demented, pithy glee by Christopher Walken. As soon as he showed up the laughs erupted from within me, and reached a manic peak as he belts out the ‘Oobie Doo’ song in priceless Walken fashion, his monkey mannerisms uncannily starting to resemble Walken’s own distinct visage. Many of the animals serve as differing parental figures to Mowgli, representing elemental factions of raising one’s young. Bagheera is cautious, doubting and skeptical. Baloo is the fun loving, lenient one. Even Shere Khan has a curdled paternal feel to him, like the brutal stepfather who is damaging to his offspring. Raksha is the unconditional mother, and that devotion comes out wonderfully in Nyong’o’s souful performance. The vocal performances are aided by the stunning effects; the CGI of facial features allow the actors work to truly extend into the realm of what’s visible, with real emotions displayed by the creatures, and not a single rendering that’s anything short of lifelike. The film evokes true wonder and primal excitement, escapism that takes itself seriously yet knows when and how to play, a dazzling technical marvel, a timeless story well told, all in one cinematic package that is not to be missed. Oh, and stick around for the credits, instead of Walken out of the theatre and missing a final musical treat.

STRIPES – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

stripesWatching Stripes (1981) again after all these years makes me nostalgic for the early comedies of the first generation of Saturday Night Live cast members: Animal House (1978), Caddyshack (1980), Fletch (1984), and so on. They were goofy and silly but they also had an engaging, anarchistic attitude that is so much fun to watch. This is definitely the case with Stripes, a film that pits a “lost and restless generation,” as the film’s main protagonist puts it at one point, against rigid authority that is only interested in producing, lean, mean, killing machines, to paraphrase another character. Much of the film’s humor comes from the clash of these two ideologies.

After losing his job, his girlfriend, and his apartment all in one morning (“You still have your health,” deadpans his best friend), John Winger (Bill Murray) decides to enlist in the Army and straighten out his life. He convinces his best friend Russell Zisky (Harold Ramis) to enlist as well (“If I get killed, my blood is on your hands,” he says, to which John replies, “Just don’t get it on my shoes.”). Once they arrive at the base and meet their no-nonsense drill instructor, Sergeant Hulka (the perfectly cast Warren Oates), John and Russell realize that it’s not going to be as easy as they imagined.

Stripes settles into a classic fish-out-of-water formula as John and his misfit platoon (with the likes of John Candy and Judge Reinhold) gradually become efficient soldiers despite their complete ineptitude and perchance for breaking all the rules. The gang of misfits fulfills all the requisite stereotypes: “Cruiser” (John Diehl) is the dumb guy, “Ox” (John Candy) is the lovable oversized oaf, “Psycho” (Conrad Dunn) is the crazy guy, and, of course, John is the group joker and self-proclaimed leader. Other conventions include casual nudity (Ox wrestles three strippers in a mud wrestling contest) and the obligatory love interests as John and Russell get involved with two cute, female MPs (P.J. Soles and Sean Young). This template would prove to be so successful that it was exploited in films like Police Academy (1984), PCU (1994) and countless others.

On his way to the premiere of Meatballs (1979), director Ivan Reitman thought up the idea for a film: “Cheech and Chong join the Army.” At the premiere, he pitched it to Paramount Pictures and, incredibly, they greenlit the project that day. Len Blum and Dan Goldberg wrote the screenplay in Toronto and would read it to Reitman (who was in Los Angeles) over the phone. He would, in turn, give them notes. Reitman gave the script to Cheech and Chong’s manager and he read it and thought it was very funny. He gave it to the comedians but they wanted complete control. Reitman then suggested to Goldberg that they change the two main characters to ones suited for Bill Murray and Harold Ramis, figuring that if they could get Ramis interested in it and let him tailor the script for the two of them that Murray would be interested in doing the film. It worked and Murray signed on to do the film.

Ramis had already co-written Animal House and Meatballs but was unknown as an actor. He screen-tested for Columbia Pictures, who hated his audition but Reitman told the studio that he was hiring him anyway. Judge Reinhold’s character, Elmo, ended up with a collection of all the best jokes from the Cheech and Chong version of the film. Before filming he thought that he had a handle on his character but once filming started, he was “petrified” because this was his first big studio film. The casting agent picked Sean Young based on how she looked and P.J. Soles tested with Ramis and they got along very well together. John Diehl had never auditioned before and this was his first paying acting job. Goldberg knew John Candy from Toronto and told Reitman that he should be in the film. He didn’t even have to audition.

One of the reasons why Stripes is my favorite Bill Murray comedy are the little touches that he adds to a scene that makes it that much funnier. For example, in the first scene where John goes to pay a guy after getting a shoe shine, Murray turns his back to the man so that he won’t see how much of a tip he’s going to give him. It’s an odd, idiosyncratic choice that no one else would’ve thought to make but it enriches the scene ever so slightly. The next scene demonstrates Murray’s gift for physical comedy when he loads a snotty rich lady’s luggage into the trunk of his cab and accidentally bags himself. It’s an obvious gag to be sure but Murray still makes it funny.

John continues to antagonize the lady (Fran Ryan) during the ride to the airport but in a deadpan, sardonic way. At one point she says, “I’ve never gone this way before,” to which he replies, “I’m sure there’s a lot of ways that I’ve gone that you haven’t.,” implying that she’s square and conservative while he’s hip and liberated, thereby establishing a clear generational gap. The rich lady insults John and so instead of getting angry at her he decides to mess with her, including one memorable bit where he starts driving fast. Suddenly alarmed, she says, “Aren’t you going too fast?” He replies, intentionally slurring his words, “Oh, it’s not the speed, really so much, I just wish I hadn’t drunk all that cough syrup.” John proceeds to give the lady a little scare but when she calls him a bum, he’s had enough and quits right in the middle of a bridge, throwing his car keys in a river and leaving her stranded.

It’s not until almost eight minutes into the film that Elmer Bernstein’s first musical cue appears and it is a slightly sad, whimsical tune. The scene where John’s girlfriend Anita (Roberta Leighton) leaves him is interesting because it straddles the line between comedy and drama. She is clearly unhappy with their relationship and he tries to deflect her complaints with humor before half-heartedly saying, “I’m part of a lost and restless generation,” and follows this up asking her a rhetorical question, “What do you want me to do, run for the Senate?” This scene underlines John’s dilemma – he lacks direction and any kind of motivation. Interestingly, no music plays during this scene so that the gravitas of it, if you will, is not undermined by manipulative music. Bernstein’s whimsical score only returns when Russell arrives and the two banter back and forth about John’s sorry state of affairs.

The chemistry between Bill Murray and Harold Ramis is excellent. Ramis is the perfect straight man to Murray’s smart-ass slacker. They had been friends and worked together for some years and play well off each other as evident in the scene where Russell bets John that he can’t do five push-ups. It is in this scene that John realizes that he’s in crap physical shape and that the army is his only hope in turning his life around. Every scene had some element of improvisation and this was due in large part to Murray and Ramis who suggested things for him to say and this spread to the other cast members. Stripes is quite possibly Murray’s best comedy. He was on his way to becoming a big movie star (he had already conquered T.V. with SNL and a scene-stealing turn in Caddyshack) and applied the comedic chops he honed on T.V. to this role. Murray has a way of delivering dialogue and being able to give certain lines a sarcastic delivery or add a look or a facial expression that makes what he says so funny.

Reitman was a fan of westerns that Warren Oates had been in and wanted someone who was strong and that everyone respected to control the misfit platoon. Reinhold said that during filming, Oates would tell everyone stories about working on films like The Wild Bunch (1969) and they would be enthralled. The casting of Oates, the veteran of many Sam Peckinpah films, gives Stripes a dose of gravitas and provides a certain amount of tension in some of the scenes he has with Murray. Sgt. Hulka is the ideal antagonist for the anti-authoritative John and their scene together in the barracks’ washroom, where Hulka finally asserts his authority, is filled with a palpable tension — unusual for a comedy but it works. Reitman wanted “a little bit of weight in the center,” and have a real argument between Hulka and Winger. It wasn’t played for laughs and allowed Murray to do something he hadn’t done before.

However, the improvisational nature of Reitman and some of the cast did not impress an old school actor like Oates. During one of the days of filming the obstacle course scenes, Reitman told the actors to grab Oates and drag him into the mud without telling the veteran actor about it in order to see what would happen in the hopes of getting a genuine reaction. Oates’ chipped his front tooth and was understandably pissed at Reitman, yelling at the director for what he did.

The film’s not-so secret weapon and scene stealer is John Candy as the lovable Ox. For example, the scene where he introduces himself to the rest of the platoon is quite funny. Candy portrays Ox as an earnest guy who wants to lose weight while Russell, in the background, reacts hilariously to what he’s saying. Candy also excelled at physical comedy as evident in the scene where Ox mud wrestles several scantily-clad women. At first, they get the upper hand on him and he’s afraid to hurt them, but after a pep talk from Winger and invoking the spirit of Curly from the Three Stooges, Ox bests six women at once! Initially, Candy wasn’t sure he wanted to do the film. “The original character didn’t look like much but Ivan said we could change it and I could do some writing. Everything fell together and we realized it could be a lot of fun.”

If Stripes has any weaknesses it is in the last third of the film where the platoon, fresh from a successful graduation parade, is trapped in an Eastern Bloc country (remember, the Cold War was still in full swing at this point) looking for John and Russell after they took off with the army’s top secret armored recreational vehicle (the uber Winnebago). This part of the movie feels forced and tacked on. It just isn’t as strong or as funny as everything that came before it. However, the first two thirds of the film are so good that not even this hurts the picture all that much.

Only during a time when the United States wasn’t at war with anyone (unless you count the Cold War), does joining the army to improve your life seem like an option if you’re reasonably educated as John and Russell are in Stripes. One gets the feeling that they could have easily had a productive life in almost any walk of life if they only applied themselves. Joining the army on a whim doesn’t seem that funny in our current climate which does date the film somewhat. Regardless, the script is filled with tons of witty dialogue and funny gags, the cast is uniformly excellent, and Murray and Ramis have never been better. At the risk of falling back on an old cliché, they just don’t make comedies like this anymore.