My Year of Flops Case File # 39 Striptease
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In the '90s, Demi Moore's breasts were everywhere. In 1990's Ghost, not even death could keep Patrick Swayze from ogling them. In 1992, they strained angrily against the fabric of Moore's military uniform in A Few Good Men. In 1993, Robert Redford spent a cool million just to spend some quality alone time with them in Indecent Proposal. In 1994, they illustrated some of the more fantastical properties of the Wonder-Bra while sexually harassing Michael Douglas' pasty white ass in Disclosure. In 1995, they single-handedly defeated repression, sexism, small-town intolerance, and common decency by transforming The Scarlet Letter into a girl-powered celebration of female sexual empowerment. In 1997, they struck a blow for gender equity in the armed forces in G.I Jane. Most famously, they hovered playfully over Moore's pregnant belly on the cover of Vanity Fair in 1991. Is it any wonder they required an extended professional hiatus following G.I Jane?
To borrow the hyperbolic language of Donald Trump, Moore's breasts were exciting, dynamic, and extravagant. They weren't just huge and ubiquitous: they were damn near Trumptastic. They came to embody the go-go '90s the same way Jayne Mansfield's equally famous, equally generous endowment personified the '50s.
By 1996, they undoubtedly merited a vehicle all their own. For 1996's Striptease, Moore netted a record $12 million payday. But where Halle Berry was allegedly paid a half-million dollars to bare her breasts in Swordfish, Moore was seemingly paid a half-million dollars to act and the remaining eleven and a half million to show her boobs. Striptease marked a giant coming-out party for Moore's most valuable assets. It also marked the beginning of the end of her reign as one of one of the biggest female box-office attractions in motion picture history.
Moore's meteoric rise and endless fall echoes that of Madonna, another self-created icon who made up in moxie, ambition, calculating exhibitionism, and career savvy what she lacked in natural talent or conventional beauty. Despite Madonna's gifts for reinvention, the movies were seldom kind to her and once plum roles in zeitgeist-friendly hits dried up for Moore, her career slipped into a free-fall.
Striptease might have began life as a zany Carl Hiassen novel in the goofy, sun-baked Elmore Leonard mold, but once Moore came onboard, it instantly morphed into a vehicle for Moore's tits, and to a much lesser extent, Moore's acting. In articulating the film's sleazy charms, Striptease qualifies as a slightly more subtle come-on than Boobies!, which would have made for a fine alternate title.
I don't know that Striptease could ever have been anything more than second-rate Elmore Leonard, but Moore's dour lead performance sabotages the film from the get-go. It's as if director Andrew Bergman told Moore she was acting in a serious drama about a struggling single mother fighting for custody of her daughter against long odds, and then told everyone else in the cast that they were making a zany crime comedy filled with kooky characters, sleazy hustlers, dumbass opportunists, and outsized caricatures.
Moore here plays a former secretary at the FBI reduced to stripping at a club called The Eager Beaver to finance her custody fight with ex-husband Robert Patrick, a low-rent conman prone to purloining wheelchairs then selling them on the black market. When an obsessed fan offers to help Moore win custody of her daughter by putting pressure on horndog good-old-boy congressman Burt Reynolds, Moore finds herself immersed in a sleazy world of perverts, opportunists, and the morally and ethically corrupt.
In a spookily, scarily committed performance designed to wash away any lingering memories of the actor's '70s beefcake prime, Reynolds sacrifices every last shred of dignity for the sake of laughs as a dim-witted pervert who fetishizes Moore as his "angel." It's easy to admire the conviction necessary to film an entire scene covered in Vaseline and wearing cowboy boots and a cowboy hat, as Reynolds does during his most gloriously, subversively undignified moment here. For her part, Moore doffs her clothes but leaves her dignity intact. For extra-special narcissism/nepotism points, Moore's onscreen daughter is played by her real-life offspring
Striptease consequently becomes a movie about Moore stripping and not the zany circumstances leading to it. The film's faltering comedy never builds any momentum since it stops dead in its tracks for interminable stripping sequences that have everything to do with showcasing elaborate choreography and athleticism and little to do with sex or the film's characters.
A great straight man or woman like, say, Jason Bateman in Arrested Development or Simon Pegg in Hot Fuzz subtly scores laughs while making everyone around them funnier. But Moore serves as a comic black hole, sucking up the humor and energy of other actors, particularly Stuart Pankin's lovably sleazy lawyer and Ving Rhames' glowering, wisecracking bouncer/aspiring swindler. Moore anchors Striptease only in the sense that she's a persistent drag that keeps it from ever taking off or going anywhere.
Unlike pretty much any movie I've written about in this series, Striptease probably turned a profit for its makers once overseas grosses, pay-per-view, and video rental money entered the equation. The incongruity between the film's video grosses and disappointing domestic box-office says much about our nation's contradictory attitudes towards sex and exhibitionism. The meager domestic box-office gross of the film represents the way Americans like to see themselves (as pure, moralistic and judgmental/dismissive of overtly sexual, prurient material) whereas its much healthier ancillary grosses reveal how they actually are behind closed doors (super-duper-pervy and unhealthily obsessed with celebrity skin).
Moore reveals everything without quite revealing anything in Striptease, except perhaps that under all the hype and ambition there's simply not a whole lot there, just another pretty girl whose looks and calculation had taken her as far as they possibly could.Failure, Fiasco or Secret Success: Failure