Writer/director Andrew Bergman, whose works have included comedy-caper classics like "The In Laws" and "The Freshman," should have been the ideal choice to adapt a novel by comic mystery writer Carl Hiaasen.
The problem is, "Striptease" is the hardest of Hiaasen's hilarious novels to film. The book is a finely tuned morality tale that takes telling digs at, and rises above, its seamy subject matter. The movie wallows in it.
Demi Moore plays Erin Grant, whose con man husband, Darrel, (Robert Patrick of "Terminator 2") got her fired from her secretarial job at the FBI and is using his status as a police informer against her in a custody battle.
She becomes a stripper - ahem, dancer - at a Miami club, hoping to raise enough money for an appeal. That poor decision lands her in the middle of various scams including blackmail and murder.
Making life difficult, in addition to her ex-husband, is a strip-club-hopping, drooling congressman, David Dilbeck (Bert Reynolds).
Protecting her are a happily married Miami homicide lieutenant, Al Garcia (Armand Assante), and the club's fiercely protective bouncer, Shad (Ving Rhames of "Mission Impossible").
Just enough of Hiaasen's myriad subplots and funny bits remain to make "Striptease" mildly entertaining - and a scream - in spots. But too often, Bergman aims for the lowest common denominator.
Lip service, for instance, is paid to the demeaning nature of strip clubs, but the movie is built around Moore gradually taking off more and more of her clothes in no less than six rather stiffly choreographed routines.
Last year's sleazy bust "Showgirls" featured strippers who were desperate to make the big time in Hollywood. "Striptease" gives us a high-paid Hollywood actress who seems determined to become a stripper. It's more pathetic than sexy, like encountering a flasher on the street.
The strip scenes undermine moments like the emotional scene when her young daughter (played by Moore's real-life daughter Rumer Willis) gets a glimpse of what she does for a living.
The moral center of Hiaasen's story keeps struggling to come through. Moore is good in the mother role, and her desperation to make a better life is affecting. Armand Assante gives a terrific performance as the cop whose decency helps Erin make the decision to change her life, as does Ving Rhames as the bouncer who wants to get both the stripper and the cop out of the club.
The bad guys fare less well. Robert Patrick is a bit cartoonish as the ex-husband. It's hard to believe anyone would award this guy custody of a guppy.
But the scenery chewing award goes to Burt Reynolds as a congressman who's lost his grip on everything but you know what. Bergman's watering down of the character's dark side makes the congressman a harmless buffoon and weakens the story considerably, as does a contrived and soft ending.
Unless people are willing to shell out seven bucks to see her strip, "Striptease" is unlikely to have legs at the box office.