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by Mike McGranaghan

The more I think about G.I. Jane, the less I like it. For the first hour, I was amused but not engrossed, and then in the second hour, I began to feel like something was being put over on me. For all its pretensions of being a serious look at the hot-button issue of women in the military, G.I. Jane is really just a formula piece of pop moviemaking that offers nothing particularly new or thought-provoking.

Demi Moore plays Navy Intelligence Officer Lt. Jordan O'Neil, who is selected to become the first woman ever allowed to train with the Navy SEALs. She is given the opportunity by a Texas senator named Lillian DeHaven (Anne Bancroft) who sees it as a good political strategy. O'Neil, however, is not out to make any feminist point; she just wants to fulfill her dream of being a SEAL. She begins her training under the supervision of Master Chief Urgayle (Viggo Mortensen), a tough-as-nails honcho with a misogynist streak. He resents having a woman in the program, as do the other troops.

There are some effective training scenes in the first hour of the film - scenes that remind the audience how tough armed forces members have to be. Director Ridley Scott (Alien, Thelma & Louise) provides a blood-sweat-and-tears look at the rigorous demands the military makes. There is a bell that recruits in the film can ring at any point to drop out. Every time a character rang that bell, I felt my heart drop at the acknowledgment that not everyone can hack it, despite their best efforts.

Although these scenes are good, it becomes clear that G.I. Jane is going to be one of those underdog movies where the protagonist encounters a lot of unfair resistance at the hands of narrow-minded swine before winning everyone's respect. What is shocking is the utter familiarity with which the film proceeds. The debate over women in the military couldn't be more timely, as more female recruits are entering places like the Citadel, much to the very vocal dismay of the men. You would think a film portraying such an inflammatory issue would have something - anything - to say about it. G.I. Jane offers nothing beyond empty platitudes. The men are pigs; O'Neil is a noble, righteous woman who deserves a shot.

The issue is bigger than the movie gives it credit for. There are some inescapable pros and cons on both sides of the issue. That's why it stirs such debate; it's not a black or white matter. Sure, women deserve equal opportunity in the military, but if the men can't train with them in a professional manner, does that weaken the system? G.I. Jane has no interest in exploring such issues, or thinking about them, or even raising them for that matter. I think it's kind of irresponsible for the story to exploit a controversial issue without giving it full weight. Certainly, the dramatic value would be greater if the film had half a brain in its head.

The other major flaw with G.I. Jane is Demi Moore herself. When I reviewed Moore's Striptease last summer, I wrote: "It seems as though Moore worked so hard on learning to strip that she forgot to invest her character with any personality." In other words, the actress coasted by on the assumption that everyone would be too impressed with her body to notice that she wasn't giving much of a performance. The criticism stands with G.I. Jane. It looks like Moore spent a lot of time in the gym bulking up. She looks tough and strong. We get endless shots of her muscled arms, washboard stomach, and tree-stump legs. But again, her performance stinks. O'Neil is a one-dimensional character who is neither admirable nor interesting. Demi Moore seems to think it's enough to look the part. It isn't. An actress should provide nuance, intelligence, and insight. We never know what drives O'Neil to put herself through this punishing ordeal. If she isn't making a feminist statement, then what is she doing? Moore never gives us a clue, although her physique is impressive.

At least the supporting performances offer some pleasure. Bancroft (who reminded me of Texas governor Ann Richards) does some nice work, as does Mortensen, who you initially love to hate, then eventually hate to love. Their work suggests something more, something deeper than what the film allows. Actually, it would have been a better picture if the plot had centered around Urgayle's changing attitudes when a Texas senator starts allowing women in the SEALs. Forget Jordan O'Neil - just give us the interesting characters and let the fireworks begin.

Despite its reluctance to delve into the subject matter, I assumed G.I. Jane would at least end with some bottom-line conclusion about the role of women in the armed forces. Instead, the film blandly follows the Top Gun Rule - all movies about armed forces members must end with some kind of "international incident" that allows the protagonist to save the day and re-establish peace. This is done because of lazy screenwriters who don't know how to make a character heroic from within. For a movie about Navy SEALs, G.I. Jane - in its tone, its outlook, and its drama - is surprisingly wimpy.

( out of four)

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