1996, R, 116 min. Directed by Andrew Bergman. Starring Demi Moore, Burt Reynolds, Armand Assante, Ving Rhames, Robert Patrick, Paul Guilfoyle, Jerry Grayson, Rumer Willis.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., July 5, 1996

Dumb and dumber. No, not Jim Carrey's latest. I'm talking about the recent trajectory of Demi Moore's script choices. I mean, really. First, there's The Juror in which the sculptor/mom she plays is impaneled on a high-profile mobster case precisely because she admits to being a know-nothing who doesn't read the newspapers and is later shocked when the Mob tries to extort her “not guilty” vote. Then there's her unforgettable bowdlerization of Hester “Like a Virgin” Prynne in last year's model of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. And now this, the film adaptation of Carl Hiaasen's popular novel about the ironic intersection of sex, scandal, politics, and corruption in steamy southern Florida. As a movie, Striptease sinks faster than a jet plane in the Everglades. Though the movie emphasizes the story's comic aspects, the humor lacks buoyancy and wit. In order to rise above the story's more ludicrous plot developments, a much lighter overall touch would have been necessary. As is, the Striptease's humor is about as weighty as its dramatic suspense… which is to say, the thing sputters to get off the ground. Writer-director Andrew Bergman's longstanding affair with comedy has been hit or miss: When he hits, he scores big with comedies such as Honeymoon in Vegas and The Freshman; when he misses, the damage yields snoozers like Chances Are. In Striptease, Bergman (who also wrote the script) plays the comedy broadly and unevenly, thus scuttling the movie's chances for the goodwill of its humor to sustain viewers through its lapses in plotting. When Erin Grant (Moore) loses her job as an FBI clerk because of the shady dealings of her scummy husband, she also loses custody of her seven-year-old daughter (played by Moore's actual daughter Rumer Willis, who may also be Striptease's most likable performer). In order to earn money for her custody battle, Erin takes a job dancing topless at the Eager Beaver and quickly becomes the club's star attraction. Ridiculous complications set in when the district's corrupt lout of a congressman (Reynolds) takes an obsessive shine to Erin and, subsequently, blackmail schemes, corpses, and gnarly re-election campaigns all begin to intersect at Erin's doorstep. It doesn't help that Reynolds plays the congressman as an out-of-control boobaholic devoted to the pleasures of lust, graft, and drink. He looks, to an almost slanderous and disconcerting degree, like a good ol' boy version of Bob Barker. Better role models might have been Wilbur Mills or the oily Gig Young in They Shoot Horses, Don't They. Surprisingly, virtually the only actor who seems at ease with the movie's light comic flavor is the unlikely bruiser Ving Rhames. As for Moore, the movie is more “tease” than “strip.” She's topless for only a couple minutes of the running time and her dance routines are “artier” than the standard bump and grind. In the wake of the debacle known as Showgirls, Striptease has had to fight to establish its separate identity and credentials. In retrospect, it appears to have been wasted energy.

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Striptease, Andrew Bergman, Demi Moore, Burt Reynolds, Armand Assante, Ving Rhames, Robert Patrick, Paul Guilfoyle, Jerry Grayson, Rumer Willis

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