Opened: August 22, 1997 | Rated: R
The acting in "G.I. Jane" is surprisingly good. The direction is powerful. But at its heart, this Athenian-feminist tale of personal military mettle is nothing more than "Top Gun" with tits.
Under a blanket soundtrack of relentless pop, "G.I. Jane" follows the early career of a young military maverick training in an elite Navy force, all the while struggling with put-upon expectations and self-imposed pressures.
Only this maverick isn't Tom Cruise. She's a deliberately sexy, buff and butch Demi Moore, and she's the first female Navy SEAL.
The SEALs are an elite, highly trained offensive insurgent force with a famously, and painfully, rigorous training. Sixty percent of applicants drop out of in the first week.
Demi Moore is an actress with a recent history of going on the offensive to justify such bombs as "The Scarlet Letter" and "Striptease."
It's a good match.
Directed by Ridley Scott, "G.I. Jane" has powerful visuals and a cloudy mood, like all his signature films ("Alien," "Blade Runner," "Thelma and Louise"). It also boasts a taxing pace and an unusually strong performance from Moore, who is physically and characteristically well suited to this role as a determined woman beating men at their own sport.
But with the exception of a few insightful soapbox observations on the role of women in the military ("No politician can afford to let women come home in body bags," one bureaucrat notes), this movie is largely formula stuff.
Moore plays Lt. Jordan O'Neil, a career Navy officer working in intelligence when she is tapped to be the first woman integrated into Navy combat training.
At the behest of an aggressive Southern senator (Anne Bancroft) who is screening applicants for public relations value, O'Neil is picked over other female officers for her relative femininity (the military doesn't want any "don't ask, don't tell" scandals). She is placed in the unforgiving SEALs program by officials who want to see her fail as quickly as possible.
The middle hour of the movie is one long montage training sequence beginning with Hell Week, a relentless, nearly sleepless seven days of physical and emotional torture.
With dizzying camera movements and expensive mock battle scenes, Scott makes vivid the exhausting rituals that lead most SEAL applicants to bow out.
O'Neil has it harder than the rest. Unwelcome by her classmates, given separate quarters and held to a lower standard because of her sex, she resolves to persevere and apply herself to the same requirements as the men -- right down to the shaved head.
What follows is a parade of sweaty training scenes laced with shots of Demi doing one-handed push-ups -- a music video of determination, set to songs by The Pretenders.
The slight success of "G.I. Jane" comes down to who was holding the reigns during production, Demi Moore or Ridley Scott. Scott won, and as a result it is a distinctive film, despite its borrowed themes.
Scott's battle scenes are palpable and creative. He warps the sounds of gunshots and helicopters, and uses warbling slip-focus visuals as rounds of ammunition are fired.
He also inspires notable performances from his cast. Bancroft is delicious, playing her hardened Texas politico with Anne Richards-like charm and brass. Viggo Mortensen is a knob's nightmare as the master chief of the SEAL team. And Moore gives her best performance since her last military role, in "A Few Good Men."
Aside from the tiresome reliance of MTV techniques for much of the editing, "G.I. Jane" falls down only in its unwavering dedication to predictability.
Our hero(ine) is forced out in the last weeks of training by a concocted sex scandal, only to return after setting the record straight and spending a few tender scenes with her husband.
Still paralleling "Top Gun," O'Neil returns for the last of her training and is inadvertently put to the test in real combat because a military emergency arises.
There are no new stories in Hollywood, only new story angles.