Striptease

Friday June 28, 1996

     "Striptease" isn't in the kind of shape Demi Moore is. While her role as exotic dancer Erin Grant has the actress buffed and toned enough for the cover of Muscle & Fitness, the film itself could use a lot more definition.
     Not many actresses can carry a movie, and "Striptease," which calls for a performer willing to take her clothes off while playing a Gold Star Mother, is not a movie everyone would want to. It is also a comedy, a fact that no one seems to have told its star.
     No accident of fate has made Moore the highest-paid actress in Hollywood; she has the kind of intensity and force of will that once brought Joan Crawford to a similar prominence. But Moore's great earnestness and determination are not what's needed in this adaptation of the Carl Hiaasen's mordant thriller by writer-director Andrew Bergman.
     Bergman ("So Fine," "The Freshman," "Honeymoon in Vegas") can be an extremely funny filmmaker, and traces of his crazed humor are visible around the edges in "Striptease." Set in the demimonde of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the film's amusing eccentrics include a shyster lawyer, a club owner who only gets sexually excited at Sea World, an Israeli dancer ("Ariel Sharon, Miss Gaza Strip") fixated on Steven Spielberg and a sneak thief who uses his 7-year-old daughter to help steal wheelchairs.
     That last gentleman happens to be Erin's ex-husband, Darrell Grant (Robert Patrick), to whom an errant judge has awarded custody of the couple's daughter Angela (Moore's real-life daughter, Rumer Willis). Hoping to earn enough money to appeal the judgment, Erin has taken a job dancing at the Eager Beaver nightclub.
     Though Moore is not shy about letting the audience appreciate her remarkable physical condition, it's her dancing that is the first sign that Erin's character is clashing with the rest of the movie.
     While the impoverished Erin seems to have scraped together enough money for numerous costume changes, none of them shows her to be anything but distant and even angry as a dancer, more of an icy technician training for a mythical Olympic berth than anyone who could reasonably be called erotic.
     This dead seriousness infects Erin's non-dancing moments as well, which are different enough from Bergman's usual zaniness to appear to come from a "Hallmark Hall of Fame" production. Happy to play a paragon of maternity too dedicated for even a hint of romance, and with her own daughter to boot (a decision more suitable for therapists than critics to hash over), neither Moore nor anyone else seems to have noticed that lines like "Not having her around, it's like my heart is missing" bring "Striptease" to a complete halt.
     Despite these lacks, Erin makes enough of an impression on stage to catch the attention of David Dilbeck, a rascally member of Congress who is out of control where women are concerned. Just one glance and he declares Erin the angelic dream woman he will use all the power of his office to possess.
     Dilbeck, well-played by Burt Reynolds, is "Striptease's" showiest character, never at a loss whether it's singing "Hava Nagila" at the Masada Retirement Home or covering himself with Vaseline to increase his sexual excitement. He's just that kind of a guy.
     Since the congressman has any number of shady associates, the local police become involved via Detective Al Garcia, played by Armand Assante, he of the handsome shoulder to cry on. Assante is effective, but he seems to be playing in yet a third film, a straight detective story. Unlike "Get Shorty," where everything was of a piece, this film falls victim to a clash of sensibilities that is fatal.
     Better to focus on Ving Rhames (Marcellus Wallace in "Pulp Fiction), whose presence also enlivened "Mission: Impossible." With a somber demeanor and a graveyard voice, he perfectly plays the deadpan humor in Shad, the club's enforcer. "Call me a dreamer," he says at one point, and those who want to dream what "Striptease" might have been like know where to look.


Striptease, 1996. R, for nudity, erotic dancing and language. Castle Rock Entertainment presents a Lobell/Bergman production, released by Columbia. Director Andrew Bergman. Producer Mike Lobell. Executive producer Joseph Hartwick. Screenplay Andrew Bergman, based on the novel by Carl Hiaasen. Cinematographer Stephen Goldblatt. Editor Anne V. Coates. Costumes Albert Wolsky. Music Howard Shore. Production design Mel Bourne. Art director Elizabeth Lapp. Set decorator Leslie Bloom. Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes. Demi Moore as Erin Grant. Burt Reynolds as David Dilbeck. Armand Assante as Al Garcia. Ving Rhames as Shad. Robert Patrick as Darrell Grant. Paul Guilfoyle as Malcolm Moldovsky.

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