G.I. Jane (1997)

Every time I talk to someone about G.I. Jane, it seems, they all find a way to get around to telling me, "It shouldn't really be called G.I. Jane, you know. G.I.'s are in the Army, and the movie is about the Navy. They just used this name because it sounded better." Who cares?! It does sound better. And besides that, it's symbolic. G.I. Joe is symbolic of all men in uniform, so when a woman attempts to take on a role reserved for men, the term G.I. Jane has a unique resonance. Although, of course, the classic contrast isn't Joe vs. Jane, but John and Jane, as in John and Jane Doe, or Jack and Jill, or Joseph and Mary. But then, G.I. Mary is another movie altogether. Nathan Lane, call your agent.

As luck would have it, the title is the best thing about the movie. Yes, you get to see her naked. Whew, we got that out of the way. Only from behind, though, in the shower, in a decidedly unsexy moment. And she's worked out so much that she looks like a man, but she isn't, so God knows who this butt-shot was designed to appeal to. Truckers and Eastern European shotputters, maybe. Some executive probably found out that's a hot demographic, so he gathered up all the hacks he could--Ridley Scott (director of Blade Runner and White Squall), writer David Twohy (Terminal Velocity, Waterworld), and the ever-resourceful Demi Moore, and said, "Please take my fifty million dollars here, go work this chick out until she looks less like a young mother and more like a missile silo, then beat the hell out of her while she swears like a sailor and sort of grits her teeth for two hours, and put it all on film and we'll make a mint. What's that? Okay, Ridley, you can put your damn opera music on the soundtrack."

And so, they did. Might as well rent Striptease. It's mildly entertaining, plus more naked.

Truth is, I've never been a fan of the brutalize-a-woman film, and in anticipation of this review, I've been wondering whether that's sexist. I didn't have a problem when, say, Marvin got his head blown off in Pulp Fiction. There are a lot of reasons why that's different, of course. I think G.I. Jane is the most recent example of not just making an action film with a female star, but making a film where a woman is treated brutally just for the fun of it. The Long Kiss Goodnight, one of the worst films of all time, is another example. The female character actually luxuriates in her sick, slow torture in a way that no male has ever done on film, unless there was something seriously wrong with him. And then these women are practically lionized, if not canonized.

"Alex, Alex, Alex," someone will say. "What's your real problem? Can't women meet challenges, too? Do they have to all be nice, retiring homemakers? Men have been in these kinds of movies for a long time, and they're great." That last part is the flaw, though. Not only have men not been in these kinds of movies, but if they had, they would have been just as perverse and disgusting. Jodie Foster's character was raped in The Accused. In Jack Hill's Foxy Brown, Pam Grier's character was tied naked to a bed and fondled, and had to slaughter a bunch of rednecks to escape. But they didn't sit back later and say, "Oh wow, I'm so glad I went through that. It was not only a learning experience, but I think I actually nipped out during it." There's a point to the violence. There's a plot. There's a dramatic continuity.

G.I. Jane doesn't give us any of that. There's some basic tension-building; Ridley Scott is a professional director, though for some reason he shoots every scene to look like either dawn or sunset. There are even good moments. Demi Moore's Lt. Jordan O'Neil confronts Anne Bancroft's weaselly Senator Lillian DeHaven in a particularly triumphant one. And Viggo Mortensen, it seems, can make almost any role interesting. (He actually gave Daylight a little bit of spark and kineticism, however brief.) And, of course, Demi Moore worked out a lot. Woo hoo.

I'd like to see an action movie where the star bragged about sitting around eating big baked potatoes with sour cream and bagels with cream cheese for two months, laughing hysterically while fast-forwarding through stuff like Aliens, and Mission: Impossible between takes. Instead we get Demi again, naked again, not acting again. At least her stripping had style. Here she just gets punched in the face and dragged through the mud. But she likes it. She loves it. You betcha.


Links for G.I. Jane

Internet Movie Database Entry

Roger Ebert Review

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