Wednesday, September 16, 2009


Actress Demi Moore shaves her head, dons fatigues, and totes a machine gun in British director Ridley Scott’s opportune but exploitative “G.I. Jane” (** OUT OF ****), a sexual equality polemic about the first female to graduate as a Navy SEAL. This lackluster basic training epic serves up a volatile but exemplary message about equal rights and the armed forces that cost the filmmakers the aid of the Department of Defense. When “G.I. Jane” isn’t preaching gender parity, this cynical but slickly done “Top Gun” clone is gung ho on showing Moore kicking butt in the kind of role her husband Bruce Willis excels. Sadly, “G.I. Jane’s” melodramatic storyline combines with its juvenile heroics to undermine what little credibility it musters as a socially conscious exercise in political correctness.

Writers David (“The Fugitive”)Twohy and Danielle Alexandra collaborated on what can only be called a prefabricated screenplay. “G.I. Jane” marches to the familiar beat that has characterized the formulaic military service picture since the 1920s. Movies such as “Courage Under Fire,” “Heartbreak Ridge,” and “Stripes.” have done what “G.I. Jane” tries to do. Moreover, they have done it better. Basically, the plots and the heroics in military pictures remain the same, only the sex of the hero has changed with “G.I. Jane.”

The Twohy-Alexandra script alternates between Congressional and Naval brainstorming sessions about Lt. O’Neil and the obstacles she confronts at the SEAL training base in Florida. A shrewd but slippery Texas Senator, Lillian DeHaven (Anne Bancroft), cuts a deal with the future Secretary of the Navy Theodore Hayes (Daniel Von Bergan). He’ll snag her vote of approval if the Navy opens its elite SEAL commando school to a woman. Secretary Hayes caves in to Senator DeHaven’s request, but squirms when she demands approval of the SEAL candidate.

DeHaven picks Lt. Jordan O’Neil (Demi Moore) for her physical agility and her keen mind. O’Neil is the kind of woman who makes men nervous. When we first meet her, she is monitoring a satellite transmission with a commando unit trying to escape from enemy country. She arouses the hostility of her male superior officer when she provides the best solution to the extraction problem. But Lt. O’Neil is not a person easily ignored. Neither Senator DeHaven nor Secretary Hayes expects her to finish the course. After all, Navy SEALs are the most demanding and merciless elite combat force in the world. Sixty percent of the recruits who enter the program wash out.
When the press snaps photos of O’Neil on SEAL maneuvers, a controversy erupts in both the Pentagon and Congress. Secretary Hayes and Senator DeHaven sought to keep the project under wraps, but the news wants to interview O’Neil. Suddenly, O’Neil finds herself caught in the middle of a JAG investigation. Trumped up charges of sexual misconduct are brought against her for fraternizing with a non enlisted women. When she asks the JAG officers if they are accusing her of lesbian activity, the guys balk. She wiggles out of that predicament when she learns that DeHaven betrayed her in the name of political expediency. This melodramatic about-face occurs just as her fellow shipmates have grudgingly accepted her only as an equal but also as their team leader.

Guys will relish the last half-hour of “G.I. Jane.” That’s when the bullets start to fly. During a training exercise in the Mediterranean Sea, the SEALs get to help out U.S. troops retrieving a fallen satellite in Libya. This part of the script is straight out of a “Star Trek” movie because the SEAL recruits are the only force close enough to respond to the situation. Nobody else can rescue these troops, so the Master Chief (Viggo Mortensen) takes his recruits into battle. Unfortunately, things go sour and the Master Chief catches a bullet. He sends O’Neil packing, but she refuses to leave him to his fate. Instead, O’Neil figures out the master chief’s escape plan and stages an ambush to wipe out his adversaries. Not since World War II Nazi movies have the enemy been so gullible and easy to kill. These Libyan soldiers present about as much a threat to the SEALs as the Iraqi soldiers did to Charlie Sheen in the “Hot Shots” movies.

Demi Moore knocks herself out as Navy Intelligence officer Lt. Jordan O’Neil. Even her character’s name has a masculine quality to it. When Demi isn’t trying to impress us with her brains, she displays her feminine brawn. The calisthenics that she performs in her tight undies defy gravity. The one-armed push-ups are enough to make you break into a sweat. All of this resembles the grunge side of last summer’s idiotic opus “Striptease,” except that frontal nudity is avoided. Moore’s performance, to her credit here, is both straight-forward and serious even when O’Neil plays toy soldier in the last reel.

As Master Chief John Urgayle, the lean and lupine Viggo (“Daylight”) Mortensen makes a worthwhile, flinty-eyed villain. When he isn’t hassling O’Neil, Urgayle is not above torturing his own wounded recruits to test their mettle. Clearly at odds with Lt. O’Neil throughout the movie, Urgayle refuses to let her status as a woman lessen the brutality of his methods. Mortensen gets the best line of dialogue when O’Neil confronts at his quarters. Before he slams the door in her face, he says: “When I want your opinion, I’ll give it to you.” The Twohy-Alexandria script allows the Master Chief one moment of redemption. He explains that women in combat do more harm to the men around them than anything positive they can contribute to the fighting. John Urgayle’s relationship with O’Neil changes before fadeout when he leads her team of SEAL recruits into the Libyan desert.

Veteran actress Anne Bancroft of “Point of No Return” shines as the crafty Texas senator whose willing to use as well as abuse Lt. O’Neil to save her own congressional bacon. This is Bancroft’s juiciest role in years, and she plays it to the hilt. Her best scene with O’Neil has Bancroft’s cagey Senator explaining why women in combat will remain a hot issue. According to DeHaven, lawmakers fear the political suicide that television images of dead women being shipped home in body bags would prompt.

As the SEAL training base commander, Scott Wilson gets to blow cigar smoke in Lt. O’Neil’s face and spar with her about the importance of women in the military on his base. Jason Beghe has a few choice scenes with Moore as the clean-cut Navy boyfriend she leaves behind. Although Beghe doesn’t want her to go, he finally accepts O’Neil’s decision and helps her out when DeHaven tries to defame her reputation.
Clearly, the Department of Defense wanted nothing to do with a Hollywood movie that depicts a Navy Master Chief drill instructor as an openly sadistic lout. He beats the pulp out of Lt. O’Neil, crashing her head repeatedly into a pole and smashing her nose. O’Neil manages to return the favor, staggering him with a kick between the legs. Obviously, the military wouldn’t condone this kind of behavior in the ranks, even if allegations as well as convictions about sexual impropriety in the services have made the headlines. Modest in its own right, “G.I. Jane” contains no nude scenes or sexual encounters between O’Neil and the other recruits. Or for that matter any rape scenes. “G.I. Jane” avoids this kind of rhetoric and mentions lesbianism in the military on in passing. Otherwise, the movie might have struck a too realistic stance, and such realism would have distracted from the popcorn plot.

Director Ridley Scott pulls some slick optical tricks to bolster “G. I. Jane,” but they don’t beef up the action. Jiggling his camera during the combat scenes may create disorientation in audience, but it doesn’t trigger a rush of adrenalin. This artsy gimmick doesn’t generate either tension or suspense. Anyway, you know that Demi Moore isn’t going to get a scratch on her because she’s smart enough to dodge the bullets that stupid men are firing at her. Simply, Scott doesn’t make “G.I. Jane” rock and roll. The grueling training sequences are okay, but the final combat scenes resemble Boy Scout antics, compared with even a marginal effort like “In The Army Now.” Ridley Scott has produced some memorable films that deploy women in gender stretching roles, such as “Alien” and “Thelma & Louise.” “G.I. Jane” boasts none of the art, hype, or viscera of those movies. In the commercially oriented market place, if the next movie doesn’t top the last, trouble lies ahead. Compared with last summer’s dignified masterpiece “Courage Under Fire,” “G.I. Jane” amounts to sheer hokum.

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