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Movie review: `G.I. Jane'

August 27, 1997|By Jason Myers

Shannon Faulkner was just the beginning. Now women want to be harassed, abused and tortured beyond all physical and psychological extremities as members of the elite Navy SEALs. Not just any women, mind you. We're talking Demi Moore, that buff brunette who plays Jordan O'Neil, the central character in Ridley Scott's middling basic training movie, "G.I. Jane."

Jordan is in Navy personnel when she is recruited by Sen. Lillian DeHaven (Anne Bancroft) to be the poster woman for a new testing program in which women are systematically integrated into all branches of the armed forces.

Of course, this being a Hollywood movie, the first regiment in which the waters are tested is what is allegedly the toughest segment of all fighting units.

Scott bombards us with the excruciating training program which all candidates for the SEAL corps must suffer through. We have the smug Master Chief John Urgayle (Viggo Mortensen) reducing the minds and bodies of his trainees to purple sinew. We also have the purple dialogue courtesy of the script by Danielle Alexandra and David Twohy, which, if it were any more formulaic, would fuel every car at the Indy 500.

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The movie races around in exaggerated flourishes of melodrama, trying to get us to root for Jordan and see that women have every right to be treated in the same poor and demeaning manner as men.

The problem with "G.I. Jane," aside from the fact that it has all the subtlety and social grace of a KKK rally, is that it is no fun. It is just as morose and sadistic as the rigors its Good Guys endure. In that way, "G.I. Jane" has a contemporary relevance, somewhere nestled in the subtext. Not that women should be allowed into the armed forces, but that Hollywood should not be allowed to make movies.

Jordan and her comrades represent the beleaguered moviegoer, weary of the same tiresome exercises in cinematic boot camp, while the Master Chief and his higher-ups represent Hollywood moguls, bruising us with their boring banalities in an incessant cycle like Pavlov conditioning his dog. "G.I. Jane" is yet another ringing of the tuning fork in which we come to find the bowl empty.

It would help if Jordan were a character we knew or cared about, but with her dialogue more recycled than aluminum, she is little more than an impersonal voice-box to proto-feminist bromides. Demi Moore, with her inelegant face and well-toned body, does seem at first the ideal type to play a smart, energetic, heroic model of the First Lady of the Navy. Then one remembers what a horrible actress she is.

She sinks the character in her lack of range. Moore only has one mode in this role (or any role, for that matter). Straightforward cockiness. Moore has more attitude than Stallone and Schwarzenegger put together, and "G.I. Jane," which could have been a stirring drama about the levels of condescension within which women are still immersed in modern society, is worse than your typical Message Movie because it contains the machismo, albeit a byproduct via a female star, which it seems to be fighting against.

The cinematography is gray and murky, only adding to the mundane aura of the film. The musical score is a borrowed stew of up-tempo synthesizers, and if The Pretenders song was played anymore it would have to have become the title for the movie.

All this does not begin to say what a poor job of directing Scott does. The good actors he does have he squanders. Poor old Mrs. Robinson, Anne Bancroft is reduced to a caricature of feisty Southern firecracker, with her Texas drawl and jargon; and Viggo Mortensen is not flattered by the slow-motion pans the camera takes over him to make him seem all big and bad or the half-baked attempts to make the movie literate by showing the Master Chief reading "literature."

The last straw is the ending - which seems to arrive from a completely different movie. For the first hour-and-a-half, dull and droning as it is, "G.I. Jane" has some semblance of thematic alignment, showing us the gory details of Jordan's ascension to a SEAL. But when her crew, Master Chief in tow, is forced into real combat somewhere in the Middle East, it is just too much to handle. The scenes are as sloppily edited as a high school newspaper, in annoying jolts of camera movement that I am guessing Scott thought would make the audience "feel" the action.

With a dreadful script, a bland star and an incompetent director, "G.I. Jane" does not make you "feel" anything but the numbing of mind and rear-end from sitting two hours in an uncomfortable chair staring at a disengaging movie.

Jason Myers is a senior at North Hagerstown High School.

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