At some point, I’m sure I mentioned this movie…well, somewhere online. But when they say “The Internet is forever” what they really mean is that your mistakes will be crystallized and catalogued and possibly used by the government to come after you at some point. Anyway, I had seen it in the last 10-15 years after enjoying it reasonably well when it came out. And I was seriously unimpressed on a re-view, so I was cautious about recommending it to the kids. Downplayed it, some would say. But our lovely host, April, really loves the movie and she was playing it up, and I’ve downplayed a few films that were much stronger upon reflection so the kids were probably expecting…more.
It’s okay. It’s good even. A fun romp. About 15 minutes too long and that’s without this being the “extended cut” which adds another 15 minutes to the runtime. It basically drops to a little-too-dumb levels once our heroes graduate from boot camp and go on the RV adventure in Eastern Europe. It sort of makes the first part of the movie feel rushed and the second part very perfunctory. In a weird way, this problem is echoed by Full Metal Jacket (1987)!
So, there are a number of problems with this film: Bill Murray is one. It’s the beginning of his douchebag persona, which reaches its peak in Ghostbusters, except in the latter film his grounding in a cynical reality is buoyed by Ramis and Aykroyd’s nerdy enthusiasm and hyper-competence. (Aykroyd’s missing, Ramis is equally cynical but extra smirky, Candy and most everyone else is just being the sort of dummy that intellectuals imagine join the army.) And, of course, Ghostbusters is much tighter.
The Flower, afterward, pointed out something I had said earlier: “It’s a movie about the army made by a bunch of draft dodgers.” I don’t know that that’s literally true, but it really feels, at every point, like nobody had any concept of what the military is really like. Back in the dark days of Carter, I understand it was a pretty shabby experience, mind you. Nonetheless, there’s no sense of the point of boot camp, and you certainly can’t cram military drilling as Harold Ramis suggests.
What struck me this time was how preposterous it was that the girls—MPs, mind you, played by P.J. Soles and Sean Young—would find chronic screw-ups Murray and Ramis attractive.
Does it really matter? I suppose not. Given the slander the military faced in the ’70s, this is fairly benign and the antagonist, a drill sergeant played Warren Oates, ends up being a good guy who (for some inexplicable reason) ends up having some sort of begrudging respect for Murray. John Laroquette is the stereotypical officer/doofus.
It made us laugh. Not a whole lot. But enough. Again, until the end, when it bogs down in action sequences which, when you think about it, prefigure Ghostbusters and its groundbreaking effects and action sequences.
But it is really weird to see your screwball comedy leads spraying machine guns and launching missiles at enemy soldiers who are also being portrayed as working stiffs of a benighted communist country.
Eh. Don’t overthink it. (Especially not the part where John Candy mud wrestles the ladies.) And you can have some fun. The kids, kind of interestingly, came down on Weird Science (1985) being more enjoyable.