Skin on parade: 'Striptease' entices and disappoints: Demi Moore bumps and grinds her way to a $12.5 million payday in this summer's latest movie offering

by Debbie Lee | 7/3/96 5:00am

I pity Demi Moore. Deceived into believing that she was empowering women by her portrayal of feisty stripper Erin Grant, she was clearly never informed that it was to be marketed as a "bawdy comedy."

Maybe it is just a personal prejudice but it seems an inappropriate forum for making a political gesture: you always run the risk that your audience will just laugh and fail to register the vital agenda.

But then Striptease is a biting social satire designed to illuminate and ridicule the gross hypocrisies and double standards indulged by men in power, not pure entertainment.

The rich plot evolves on the following lines: having lost her job and custody of her child, Erin is forced into stripping to raise money for a court appeal.

Amongst the clients at The Eager Beaver, the seedy nightclub where Erin performs, is a plump, nerdy guy in glasses who is infatuated with Erin and a badly disguised Burt Reynolds as a badly disguised lecherous senator, also infatuated with Erin.

The nerd attempts to blackmail the senator in order to promote Erin's custody case with disastrous consequences -- dragging Moore's deranged husband, small daughter, lupine-obsessed sister-in-law, club bouncer and fellow strippers into a plot about as subtle as one of Erin's routines.

Government is exposed as vice ridden, the husband is exposed as an unfit parent and Erin is simply exposed.

Ignoring the ridiculous premise that any judge, even a senile, old one would give custody to Moore's psychotic husband, what is more disturbing is the film's confused attitude towards stripping.

With the risk of coming across as obsessed with what must amount to approximately eight minutes of the entire film, the issue demands particular attention.

The movie's title and poster both capitalize on the idea and a small but articulate proportion of the audience seemed not to have been put off by the extortionate rate of 81 cents a minute for their evening's entertainment.

The film firmly differentiates between prostitutes and strippers (sorry, dancers), a justifiable distinction if Erin's fellow performers were not merely poor variations on the stock "tarts-with-hearts", each sporting a comedy accent and an IQ to match her chest size.

Erin herself dislikes stripping, taking care to inform us how she never fails to feel nauseous before every performance, insisting on disrobing to Annie Lennox and becoming perturbed when her daughter happens to see her "dancing."

But the sophistication of the film is such that it allows us to see Erin's routines from an audience's perspective, doubtlessly expecting we remain fully aware of her distaste for the task throughout.

After all, how could anyone find four separate strips erotic in the knowledge of the performer's extreme reluctance?

See the problem? Striptease gives us a stripper who dislikes stripping but does not want to be ashamed of it.

The audience watches scenes that some men pay to watch live, even without the chance of a high angle view of Demi Moore's buttocks, but acknowledge that you would not want your mother to do it. Then the movie refuses to deal with any of these issues by making them peripheral to its so called satire.

Even if unperturbed by the ethics of the film and prepared to regard it as essentially light-hearted you will soon run in to one of its other countless problems.

Heading the list is the script itself which gives the impression of being written by far too many people. Gags are set up laboriously, perhaps in case the satire gets too complex and the audience's intelligence needs flattering.

Every so often the small daughter says something cute, reminding us of Erin's primary role as a woman just trying to be a good mother.

Characters shuffle onto the screen, uncomfortably dragging a half established history behind them; the Miami cop on holiday, the senator's long suffering aid and the greedy sugar plantation owners all troop in and then off again as if auditioning for a real part.

However in its favor, given the raw material Reynolds is very good as the grotesque congressman, succeeding in amusing by sheer conviction and absolute sacrifice on the alter of ridicule.

The same cannot be said for Moore who would be well advised to keep her clothes on in future if she does not wish to be upstaged by her own body.

Indeed, if the entire film had been as agile and well-toned as the women it displayed, then it would undoubtedly have been better all round.

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