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Striptease

Review by Carrie Gorringe

Demi Moore

Directed by Andrew Bergman.

Starring Demi Moore,
Armand Assante, Burt Reynolds,
and Ving Rhames.

Screenplay by Andrew Bergman
from the novel by Carl Hiaasen.

Near the beginning of Striptease, the sleazy proprietor of what is euphemistically referred to as a "gentlemen’s club" asks one of his girls, Erin Grant (Moore) to consider participating in nude wrestling in a pile of agricultural commodities to improve attendance. Just like Warner Baxter giving a pep talk to Ruby Keeler in a ‘30s Warner Bros. musical, the proprietor assures her that the "team" relies on her support, except that, unlike Keeler, Grant is not going to come out of the situation better than she went in. "You go into the corn," he tells Grant, " you set a great example for the other girls." By this time, there’s been so much corn on screen that her physical descent into the corn pile would only serve to illustrate the obviousness of the unintentional metaphor.

But this new addition to her job description is the least of Erin’s problems. She has a deadbeat, trailer-trash husband whose main occupation is theft and who also has custody of their daughter. To earn enough money to rectify the custody situation, Erin is forced to work as a stripper at the "Eager Beaver," becoming one of its star attractions. In the process, she attracts the unwelcome attentions of one Congressman Dilbeck (Reynolds), a dishonorable Member of the House who, from the looks of him, should never have a lighter activated near his mouth at precisely the same instant he decides to exhale. Entranced by Erin’s erotic variations on the two-step, he decides to do a little dosey-do on the stage with her, indifferent to any prospective cameramen nearby which, thanks to the provisos of Murphy’s Law and the requirements of the script, are close at hand.

Soon the congressman is obsessed with finding his "angel" Erin, and the congressman’s aide frets that Delbeck’s "going psycho in a titty bar" will probably cost him votes if the incident ever comes to light. The powerful sugar interests who pull the congressman’s strings are determined to control this aspect of his life as well, even if murder is the result (it need hardly be mentioned that Delbeck is a Republican whose campaign centers around the deliberately undefined issue of "family values," and whose favorite extracurricular activity, aside from pursuing Grant, is to smear himself all over with Vaseline, put on his cowboy boots and hear his toes squishing around inside them). Meanwhile, a Lt. Garcia (Assante) has taken an interest in the fascination of the congressman for the lovely Ms. Grant, especially after one of her customers ends up dead following a visit to the congressman’s condo. If Erin isn’t careful, she may end up being the second bird killed with the same stone.

It’s too easy to call this film a bust, but there really is no other word to describe it. From an anatomical, or even a prurient perspective, there’s nothing wrong with Ms. Moore’s body -- far from it. The lady’s corpus is so hard that she makes the robot Maria from Metropolis look like a first-class piker in the fitness realm; indeed, the conditioning of Moore’s thighs alone would merit a five-page article in any fitness magazine (or, at the very least an article on the most efficient method of shelling walnuts). Her skills as an ecdysiast show off said body and the work of choreographer Marguerite Derricks to best advantage. But Ms. Moore, an actress who seems to have lost all sense of humor in direct proportion to the amount of influence she now possesses in Hollywood, doesn’t regain it here. or much of anything else. That’s because Striptease has a slight problem with irreconcilable differences, so to speak, and we’re not talking about Grant’s divorce decree. Although it is obvious that Moore is desperate to elevate Carl Hiaasen’s satirical novel into a depressing tome on the sexual degradation of women, she is enough of an exhibitionist to want to put a little seductive spin on the displays of T&A (as if her Vanity Fair covers weren’t proof enough). It’s this contradiction that sinks the film before it ever approaches anything close to critical mass. You can’t have your cheesecake and eat it, too.

As the central character in this piece, Moore’s work is some of the weakest in a career not known for emotive highlights. Because she is so hell-bent upon making us feel Erin’s pain, she forgets how to make us laugh, and, to writer/director Bergman’s credit, his adaptation does contain some potentially hilarious dialogue, but Moore’s delivery of some of the funniest lines in the film fall with a rather painful and reverberating thud. In her mouth, elements of hilarity become embarrassing remnants of what should have been. Only when Ms. Moore interacts with her on-screen daughter (played by her off-screen daughter, Rumer Willis) is any hint of internal fire discernible. Unfortunately, the other thing that is discernible, on a very unintentional basis, is the ability of the pint-sized Ms. Willis to act her mother right under the table. Only Rhames, as the bouncer at the "Eager Beaver" and Reynolds are able to escape from this mess with their dignity intact. In fact, someone must have neglected to inform Reynolds that actually acting in this film was an option; he gives a strong performance as the lecherous and lush-ous Delbeck, as if his professional life depended upon it (and, after his recent tabloid woes, it most certainly did). If you want to understand how badly Striptease fails to fulfill its promises to the audience, watch Reynolds and Rhames, and ignore everyone else.

Striptease is a film that might be best referred to as an anomaly: it’s a comedy that isn’t very funny. It was also supposed to be the film that was supposed to demonstrate Moore’s worth as an actress; the return in the latter case is as skimpy as her dancing clothes. The plot has even less going on under the surface, a not uncommon complaint with films released this summer. But the action films have a real advantage over Striptease; in the former case, there’s always something intriguing to watch.


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