Single mom Erin Grant (Demi Moore) loses her job and custody of her young daughter, Angela (Rumer Willis) to her pill-popping low-life ex-husband, Darrell (Robert Patrick). Taking a job as a stripper to raise enough money for a court appeal, she soon becomes the main attraction at a dive called the Eager Beaver in Miami. One night on stage, Erin is aghast when salacious Senator David Dilbeck (Burt Reynolds) clobbers an over-excited patron, which prompts yet another of her admirers into an ill-advised attempt to blackmail the mob-connected congressman. He turns up dead in the river, his body discovered by vacationing police detective Lieutenant Al Garcia (Armand Assante). Garcia’s investigation leads to Erin whom he enlists as an informant once it becomes apparent Senator Dilbeck has grown dangerously obsessed with the beautiful stripper.
Remember the days when it was near-impossible to avoid seeing Demi Moore in a state of undress? Whether on magazine covers, late night chat-shows or, of course, movies the then-highest paid actress in Hollywood had an undeniable exhibitionist streak. Few of her fans complained much although fewer still turned out to see Striptease which proved one of the biggest flops of 1996, earning several Razzie Awards. Arriving on the heels of that other would-be erotic disaster: Showgirls (1995), this delivered conclusive proof that while strippers drew plenty of paying customers at clubs or stage shows, nobody wanted to see them in movies unless you were talking about those mildly successful straight-to-video Stripped to Kill movies produced by the ever-enterprising Roger Corman.
Adapted from a highly regarded novel penned by journalist turned crime writer Carl Hiaasen - whose only other adaptation was the eco-friendly children’s film Hoot (2006)! - one imagines the source was nowhere near as sluggish and unfocused as this misfire. The film opens solidly establishing Erin as a compelling, sympathetic lead and the moral centre of what is essentially a morality play stressing the heroine’s noble qualities in the face of all the hypocrites and perverts that write her off as a whore. Writer-director Andrew Bergman got his start writing the original screenplay that served as the basis for Mel Brooks’ spoof western Blazing Saddles (1973) and thereafter penned cult comedies like The In-Laws (1979) and Fletch (1985) before proceeding to a run of uneven though on occasion inspired directorial outings including The Freshman (1990), Honeymoon in Vegas (1992) and It Could Happen to You (1994). Here he unfortunately made a right old mess of Hiaasen’s complex, ambitious satire resulting in a film that lurches bizarrely from crime thriller to sex romp and heart-warming family drama.
Whilst the sight of an unclad Moore is not unappealing, her would-be sultry routines prove strangely aggressive and really somewhat joyless, crudely rammed in our faces as if the star had something to prove yet little more than a distraction from the fumbled plot. Moore does rather better on the acting front than the stripper’s pole especially in scenes opposite her real-life daughter Rumer Willis who also acquits herself well with an engaging performance. The young actress went on to carve out a minor career in films such as The House Bunny (2008) and Sorority Row (2009). Elsewhere, the film strains so hard to come across as raunchy and outrageous one could swear there were audible creaking sounds. A succession of comedic missteps involving cockroach munching, a python almost strangling a stripper to death on stage and the ghastly sight of a near-naked Burt Reynolds slathered in vaseline culminate in a farcical climax. Silver-haired and disconcertingly ’tache-free, Reynolds campaigned hard for his role and truth be told, delivers a relatively decent performance all embarrassments aside but did rather better the following year with Boogie Nights (1997). As a satire of the hypocrisy of the conservative right, the whole Dilbeck subplot is far from subtle, over-familiar and frankly not that funny. Which sums up the film as a whole.