By Rob Blackwelder
Only three or four minutes after the lights go down, any credibility "The General's Daughter" might have as a serious drama goes right out the window with the introduction of the title character.
At a retirement party for The General (James Cromwell), a military banquet hall is filled with brass honoring their commander. The camera searches row after row of stern-looking, spit-and-polish men before moving into a close-up of his daughter (Leslie Stefanson), a hot babe of the underwear model variety, smiling a centerfold smile and, except for her uniform, looking for all intents and purposes like she should be jumping out of a cake.
Forgoing the opportunity for a relatively realistic female officer portrayal like Demi Moore in "A Few Good Men," "The General's Daughter" asks us to believe that this porcelain blonde, who looks like she'd cry if she broke a nail, is not only an army captain but a doctor -- a shrink who instructs soldiers in the psychological warfare, no less.
Right. Tell me another one.
Now don't get me wrong. I'm not saying beautiful girls can't be officers in the military. In fact, one of my best friends was in the army, and she's an absolute doll. What I am saying is that beautiful military women don't walk around on duty looking like they stepped off the pages of Victoria's Secret and slipped into dress blues.
But wait! There's more!
Later we find out that while she's a flirty sweetie on the outside, if you get her behind closed doors she turns into a cat o' nine tails-touting, bondage freak dominatrix -- a symptom of emotional scarring suffered when she was gang-raped during basic training some years ago -- and that sleeping with her is a practically a rite of passage on this base.
Not exploitive enough for you? How about if we get to see the rape in detail during a wholly unnecessary flashback?
Want still more?
When she's murdered (enter the plot), the key to finding the killer seems somehow to be connected with the fact that her duty-blinded daddy helped cover up her rape to protect the honor of West Point.
When it's not being ridiculously, insultingly exploitive with sexual subplots, "The General's Daughter" follows hot-shot military dick John Travolta on his investigation of the girl's seemingly brutal death -- she was staked out spread eagle and naked on a training range and strangled with her undies and a rope.
It just keeps getting worse, don't it?
The movie is directed by Simon West ("Con Air"), whose biggest weakness is his apparent inability to work with animate objects, especially the ones capable of speech. As such, the actors are left to their own devices while West focuses on gratuitous cinematography, and most of them slip into caricatures and/or their own private typecasting.
Travolta tries his hand at a silly mock-Southern accent before falling back on that thing he does with his chin, pointing his cleft at people he's trying to intimidate and scratching his razor stubble.
Madeleine Stowe plays the rape investigator Travolta is reluctantly partnered with (turns out they're each other's ex), and gives an I'll-never-be-a-victim-again performance grafted from similar characters she's played in "12 Monkeys," "Blink," "Revenge," et al.
James Woods, surprisingly, is the subtle one in the cast (is it just me or has he been get better with every role?). He plays a the general's daughter's Psych Ops superior, who may also have been sleeping with her -- unless it turns out he's gay. Don't ask, don't tell. His evasive, combative rebuttals to relentless questioning from Travolta make for the only good scenes in the movie.
With Woods holding back, scenery-chewing duties fall to Timothy Hutton as Travolta's commander, who also may have been one of the dead girl's mattress rodeo riders and who gets the call to go postal when West succumbs to his inner action hack in the last reel and Scotch tapes a big explosion on to the preposterous finale.
Adding insult to injury, the director has the audacity to end the picture with a text epilogue in which he tries to make up for two hours of rape fantasy exploitation with a few choice words touting the merits of women in the military.
Sorry, buddy, you're not fooling anyone.
Run time: 116 mins
In Theaters: Friday 18th June 1999
Box Office Worldwide: $100M
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures
Production compaines: Paramount Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 1.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 22%
Fresh: 20 Rotten: 69
IMDB: 6.2 / 10
Director: Simon West
Starring: John Travolta as Paul Brenner, Madeleine Stowe as Sara Sunhill, Timothy Hutton as Col. William Kent, James Cromwell as Lt. Gen. Joseph Campbell, Leslie Stefanson as Capt. Elizabeth Campbell, James Woods as Col. Robert Moore
Also starring: Clarence Williams III
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