Would consenting adults flock to a crime thriller with the emphasis on sex? 1992’s Basic Instinct proved that they would, but 1996’s Striptease notably failed to manage the same trick, despite a record-breaking $12.5 million salary for star Demi Moore. Critics love to deride films with sexual content, preferring to suggest that they are above whatever blandishments are offered, but with our new and improved understanding of male-female relations, can we safely return to Striptease?
This is an adaptation of a darkly comic crime-novel by writer Carl Hiaasen, and feels much in the genre of Elmore Leonard. We follow a diverse group of low-lives as their paths collide in a Miami backwater; amongst them is FBI secretary turned stripper Erin (Demi Moore) who is fighting for custody of her kid against Darrell Grant (Robert Patrick), who is using the kid as cover for a spate of thefts of hospital equipment, namely wheel-chairs. With the justice system rigged against her, Erin agrees to work undercover exposing a sex-crazed congressman David Dilbeck, played in a white-toupee and with vaseline in his boots by Burt Reynolds. Also along for the ride are Erin’s protector Shad (Ving Rhames) and his pet monkey, plus worldly cop Al Garcia (Armand Assante). Can Erin navigate the perps and the pervs and escape with her child?
Much has been made of Moore’s dour presence here, but she’s supposedly fighting for her child’s life, so that gets a pass; she’s in character. Some of the comedy in Andrew Bergman’s film leans a little too far into broadness, but the basic story set-up is fine and Haiaasen was reportedly delighted by the final film. Bergman was determined to show the less exotic side of the adult entertainment industry, and makes a few surprising calls; the music of the Eurythmics (Little Bird, Sweet Dreams) is used, not once, not twice, not three times, but so many times I generally lost count. Presumably this is intended to the repetitive side of Erin’s daily rehearsals and nightly grind, but the effect on the casual viewer of listening to the same track over and over again is something of a grind itself.
Striptease is a remarkably un-erotic film, but it’s a better than average crime-thriller with some salty characters and a propulsive, scabrous plot. Despite a dense storyline, the narrative gets worse as it goes along, and the conclusion is less than rousing. The director notes the film ended up with a more-than-healthy take on home video, but Stiptease’s drear reputation isn’t entirely deserved; it’s a glitzy yet sleazy slice of Miami low-life action. And after all, this is the story of a wronged woman getting her way, so it’s heart is in the right place even if everything else is as all-over-the-shop as Ving Rhames’ pet monkey