Striptease (United States, 1996)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

First of all, let's get the obvious question out of the way. Yes, Demi Moore does take off her top (on several occasions, in fact), although it takes half the running length for her to do it the first time. However, while Moore's body may be the movie's primary selling point, the film tries to do more than just display naked breasts. The heart of Striptease is a satirical examination of those who frequent strip clubs, and this makes it profoundly different from Showgirls, which embraced those aspects of American culture that Striptease lampoons.

Unfortunately, Striptease's satirical bent, while aimed not only at the sexist attitudes of those who patronize topless joints, but at politicians, right-wing religious fanatics, and lawyers, is unfocused and lacks the requisite viciousness. It's just one aspect of a muddled, overly-long motion picture that can't decide whether it wants to be a comedy or a drama. Ultimately, the overabundance of ineffective dramatic moments hurts the movie. The situation is just too improbable and silly to carry any dramatic weight.

Demi Moore plays Erin Grant, a former FBI secretary who now works as a topless dancer at the Eager Beaver Strip Club. She needs to earn enough money to sustain a prolonged custody battle for her 7-year old daughter, Angela (Rumer Willis, Moore's real-life offspring). Among the Eager Beaver's sleazy regulars is Congressman David Dilbeck (Burt Reynolds), the perpetually-drunk, womanizing, election-day choice of Christian groups. One night, Dilbeck makes a scene at the strip joint, lunging for Erin and hitting another patron over the head with a bottle. Someone captures this on film, and a game of blackmail and murder ensues. Meanwhile, Erin snatches her daughter from her criminal ex-husband, Darrell (Robert Patrick, doing his best Gary Oldman impersonation), and solicits the help of a Miami cop (Armand Assante) to keep the little girl.

One of the supposed comic elements of Striptease is Burt Reynolds' offensive, fatuous character. Unfortunately, there's something sinister about this ignorant drunk (in fact, before some re-shooting was done, he attempted a rape) that diminishes any humor associated with him. This is an unsavory man, and Reynolds plays him in a creepy, unsettling manner. But, if it's difficult to laugh at Reynolds, the same can't be said about Ving Rhames. In his role as Shad, the Eager Beaver's bouncer, Rhames' deadpan, matter-of-fact style (similar to the one he used in Pulp Fiction) is consistently hilarious. He is Striptease's high point.

Moore is fine in this role, although more attention will be paid to her physical attributes than her acting. She supposedly studied hard to be a stripper, and her on-screen, on-stage act is believable. She's a little out of her depth in the dramatic sequences, although that's only one of the reasons they don't work (the script being the primary culprit). Young Rumer Willis, who received a lot of notoriety before she was born as a result of Moore's Vanity Fair cover, displays some promise with her unaffected performance.

Despite being designed to mock those who leer, Striptease does some leering of its own. Several lengthy topless dance sequences are shot in an energetic and provocative manner. It's easy to be cynical about this film's motives, especially considering how drastically Andrew Bergman's script has watered down the most biting aspects of Carl Hiaasen's novel. Striptease is a curious mix of eroticism, comedy, and drama that, instead of blending into a pleasing whole, has a tendency to separate and curdle.

Striptease (United States, 1996)

Run Time: 1:55
U.S. Release Date: 1996-06-28
MPAA Rating: "R" (Nudity, Profanity, Violence)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1