goleader.com - Union County, NJ Newspapers
By MICHAEL S. GOLDBERGER, film critic
She's rough. She's tough. And she's buff. Such is what we learn about Demi Moore's title character in G.I. Jane. Which leads us to speculate, so what of it? This quandary remains unanswered throughout the strenuous proceedings.
What might have become a cult film had it been conceived in the late l960s -- solely because of its wildly demonstrative, single-issue tenacity -- Ridley Scott's boisterous and didactic assault on male chauvinism in the United States Navy somehow manages to achieve feature length proportions despite a script almost entirely devoid of characterization. This meat and potatoes entree prefers to elaborate on its tale the onomatopoeic way. Pow! Crunch! and Groan! And Demi proves she can grunt with the best of em.
Jordan O'Neil, who takes up the standard for all women just dying to fight in combat, jumps right out of the comic books, despite film credits claiming possession of a real screenplay. She's the little Amazon you've got to love, winning sympathetic cheers easily as her difficult travail unfolds. This despite not knowing from who or whence our fireball came. In a "just do it" vein, this movie figures all that background and motivation stuff is for sissies anyway. All this kind of yarn needs to inaugurate the doings is a jump-start.
Proud to oblige in its role as temporal equivalent to the pantheon of Mt. Olympus, the U.S. Senate provides the necessary shards of impetus. As the fickle finger of fate has dictated, there's this one fellow who sure wants to be Secretary of the Navy. But he'll need to achieve grace at a confirmation hearing presided over by powerful Senator Lillian DeHaven (Anne Bancroft).
A real dilly as Capitol Hill's super tough cookie, the drawling southerner strikes a blow for sexual equality. But is the Senator really dedicated to the cause, or merely using it to score points? In a high-powered bit of Washington tit for tat, the sexists get the cabinet post and Senator DeHaven gets her "gender-blind Navy."
So now the search begins for the perfect candidate -- the test case. Someone who can survive training with the killer elite Navy Seals. Enters Demi's career-driven Jordan. Intelligent but modest. Ambitious yet discreet. Tough but sensitive. Being on the distaff side caused her to lose out on Desert Storm, a missed opportunity she has always regretted.
Take out a smattering of lines that tries to pass as dialogue and what then follows could be mistaken for a lavish Navy training film. In its simple articulations, the golden girl washes ashore at camp hell hole. She doesn't want any special treatment, but 30-thousand years of the double standard is hard to shake. Initially, there are separate quarters, and one officer even offers to put a step at one stage of an obstacle course. In short, no one but Jordan is taking this very seriously.
In a case of double-edged sword injustice, the male recruits resent the special attention, as well as the media exploitation, that can't help but follow Jordan. Most perturbed among the players jockeying for moral and philosophical advantage is Viggo Mortensen as Master Chief. Roughly translated, the nomenclature is Navy Seal for drill sergeant.
In a famous filmic stereotype that says volumes about reward, punishment and the love-hate relationship with military authority, Mr. Mortensen successfully makes Lou Gossett, Jr.'s memorably drawn character in An Officer and a Gentleman look like a kiddy show host. The physical and psychological beating Miss Moore's rough 'n' ready character takes in the course of this unbearably brutal training is indeed strange brew. But the Master Chief, a bit of a mad hatter, spouts poetry from D. H. Lawrence. So maybe that makes it all right.
Auditing the multifarious bruises Jordan gets at the punishing hands of Master Chief ("I'm saving your life by doing this") is, at the very least, a rather curious form of visceral entertainment. If it isn't major league misogyny masquerading as the perennial war of the sexes, it sure is a good imitation. But if you can accept all that, you probably won't have a problem swallowing the huge piece of irony that leads to the predictable climax.
Director Scott unreels 65 percent of the formulaic boot camp spool before venturing the slightest dramatic digression. To his initial credit, a sense of utter exhaustion permeates, and soon envelopes the viewer. But in the absence of stimulating sub-plots -- or any sort of real plot for that matter -- the sheer redundancy of the training sequences soon grows tiring.
Miss Moore deserves credit for sheer determination and unflagging chutzpah. She turns herself inside out and every which way, a veritable contortionist ready to evoke any mix of tough gal emotions. Demi even manages to furtively preen for the cameras in a production that, by its very subject, is supposed to invalidate sexism. But rule number one in Hollywood -- Sex Sells -- still holds. And this film doth protest way too much. They can dress it in fatigues, but you can bet your collection of Susan B. Anthony dollars that, in its wearying way, G.I. Jane is still selling the same old stuff.
* * * * *
G.I. Jane, rated R, is a Buena Vista Pictures release directed by Ridley Scott and stars Demi Moore, Viggo Mortensen, and Anne Bancroft. Running time: 115 minutes.