'Striptease': Demi Shows Moore

MOST PEOPLE WILL WANT TO check out Striptease to see Demi Moore take off her clothes. Some people will go because it's a comedy written and directed by Andrew Bergman, the guy who gave us the zany highs of ""The Freshman'' and ""Honeymoon in Vegas.'' Fans of Carl Hiaasen, the satirical mystery novelist, will be curious to see if Hollywood has managed to capture his barbed vision of sleazebucket Florida scoundrels. Whether any of these interested parties will emerge satisfied is another question.

Fleshwise, Demi delivers as promised. Playing Erin Grant, she generously shares her firm, gym-enhanced amplitudes on the stage of The Eager Beaver, a Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., strip joint. Erin, a former FBI clerk, is dancing to raise money for an expensive custody battle over her 7-year-old daughter (played by her real-life daughter Rumer Willis), now in the clutches of her worthless husband (Robert Patrick), a petty felon who steals wheelchairs from hospitals. As a bonus, the movie tosses in a topless home ""rehearsal'' scene, surely only to show us how diligent she is at her work.

The perils of being a part-time sex goddess soon engulf Erin in some lethal political chicanery. A drunken, sex-crazed congressman (Burt Reynolds) with a Christian-right constituency becomes obsessed with Erin's Eager Beaver artistry and is recognized in the club when he almost kills another patron who's pawing her. Up for re-election, he's a prime target for blackmail. But the congressman has some bloodthirsty protectors who need to keep him in office and are not shy about bumping off anyone who gets in his way -- including, if need be, Erin.

This may sound like a suspense movie, but it's not. There's no mystery (we know who the bad guys are) and the damsel-in-distress angle generates zero tension. It's only as a broad, ramshackle comedy that ""Striptease'' makes any claim on our affections, and the gags fizzle as often as they fire. Bergman has some fun tweaking the hypocrisies of literally oily politicians (the kinky congressman likes to smear his body in Vaseline) and his send-up of the strip scene is amiably addled. Unlike ""Showgirls,'' the laughs here are intentional. Who can resist an Israeli stripper named Ariel Sharon (Kimberly Flynn), whose ambition is to meet that very nice man, Steven Spielberg? Reynolds mugs shamelessly -- sometimes funny, sometimes not -- and Paul Guilfoyle has some choice moments as the congressman's sinister handler. But the wriest laughs are consistently stolen by Ving Rhames as the massive club bouncer Shad, Erin's guardian angel, a guy who puts cockroaches in yogurt cups hoping to strike it rich on bogus lawsuits.

Unfortunately, no one seems to have clued Demi in on the joke. Never known for her light touch, she appears to be act- ing (earnestly, humorlessly) in some other movie altogether, a dreary melodrama about a noble mom fighting for her child. From Demi's determined jaw, lines that should be tossed like confetti drop like heavy anchors. Well, nobody's perfect. When you've got power thighs and killer abs, who needs Carole Lombard?

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