STRIPTEASE ** 1/4
Occasionally, ignorance can be bliss. I have not read any books by Carl Hiaasen, so that I cannot join those who find "Striptease" vastly inferior to its course novel. I did find the early parts of the film fairly dull, but things picked up rather nicely and while the plotting and continuity were pretty incoherent, the movie was overall entertaining.
In a Florida Court, divorcee Erin Grant (Demi Moore) is desperate. The judge gives custody of her little girl Angela (Rummer Willis, Demi's real life daughter) to husband Darrell who is scum and jobless. But the judge remembers Darrell's football-playing days. To appeal this decision, Erin needs money, so this ex-secretary at the FBI resorts to stripping at the Fort Lauderdale Eager Beaver topless bar.
When outrageously dumb, horny and soused Republican Congressman Dilbeck (Burt Reynolds) watches Erin's convolutions on the stage, he wants her badly. He also gets into a fracas. Though incognito with wig and dark glasses, he is recognized by Jerry Killian, a regular who worships Erin. Killian plans to blackmail Dilbeck so as to have the Congressman help Erin's case. But Killian is found floating in the lake adjoining Detective Garcia's vacation cabin. From here on out the story involves the strippers, Darrell who is a dismissed FBI informer and wheels his daughter, all bandaged up, in wheelchairs to steal them from hospitals and rest homes. Erin's efforts to get (by hook or crook) her daughter result in kidnapping. The venal Congressman who must be reelected to continue doing dirty work for a sugar company, keeps pursuing Erin, offering her two $2,000 for one hour's private striptease in the huge yacht of sugar barons (he ups the ante to $5,000 for Session Two). There is also the imposing, dignified African-American bar bouncer Shad (Ving Rhames),who is Erin's friend and self-appointed protector. (He has his own scheme of a fraudulent lawsuit that involves cockroaches in yogurt).
The gallery of characters includes the sugar people who run the Congressman, watch him warily, provide thuggish bodyguards; Darrell's lowlife sister and her cop husband; and of course, the owner of The Eager Beaver, the strippers, a cute monkey, a predictable python, its unpredictable replacement, and so on.
Years ago, male audiences would have flocked to see someone of Demi Moore's stature "au naturel," and in general many people would have been shocked by the idea. Not today. Even so, those patrons who do go for Moore voyeurism may be disappointed. Not because her callipygous, tirelessly exercised (and siliconed?) figure is not excellent, but because you only get few glimpses of it. Furthermore, Moore's gyrations are athletic rather than erotic. As for the other strippers, they have a kind of inoffensive nudity, all in the line of duty.
I don't know whether the book, reputedly quite funny, explored the issues of stiptease or viewed them from a pro-feminist point of view. The film does not. It merely goes its merry and outrageous way. Demi Moore, the central character, is a nice person whose main flaw is to have married so incongruously. She is sweet, educated and civilized. Why she took as a husband the trashy, gross, illiterate hick Darrell is a mystery that nagged this viewer all through the film.
What, on the other hand, gives appeal to the movie, is that so many people in it are nice. Killian is nice. The strippers are nice. The club owner is nice. The big, muscular bouncer is very nice--to all those who are nice. Assante, who in some films can be overbearing or irritating, is also nice. What's more, no one is nice in a pointed, saccharine way.
The funny bits come mostly from the contrasts between the Nice and the Bad, the latter, of course being Darrell and the Senator's entourage and patrons. Moore, rightly avoiding to do comedy, becomes, in a sense , the straightwoman for Reynolds, who is making a real and comic comeback on the big screen. His exaggerated part goes beyond political satire and into outrageous lines, clownish appearance and behavior. It's hard to resist his absurdism, as when he goes from his room, where he is ridiculously undressed, vaselined and sniffing lint from the laundromat machine that Moore had used, to outside the room. He is correctly suited as he steps out among a banquet crowd of Young Christians whom he addresses on family values.
Reviews of this film have been negative, partly, I think, because the movie doesn't warrant Moore's 12.5 million dollars paycheck. True enough, but if you ignore this outrage, the movie can be quite entertaining.