G.I. Jane (United States, 1997)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

With a title like G.I. Jane, it would be easy to dismiss Ridley Scott's latest effort as exploitation fare. Such a reaction, however, would do the picture an injustice. On the other hand, the movie lacks the thematic depth that the film makers would like to attribute to it. Basically, this is a high-grade testosterone flick, which is ironic, considering that the lead actor is one of the 1990s' top female screen sex symbols, Demi Moore.

While G.I. Jane is admittedly effective at doing most of what it attempts, the problem lies in its lack of ambition. We've seen movies like this, about honor and courage in the military, since Hollywood discovered the war genre. Many of the trappings may be different, but, at its core, G.I. Jane isn't all that different from John Wayne's The Sands of Iwo Jima. This film also owes more than a small debt to the acclaimed Richard Gere movie, An Officer and a Gentleman. Anyone who has seen that picture, or any other like it (and there are a lot out there), will recognize every perfunctory and formulaic turn in G.I. Jane's script.

Moore is Lt. Jordan O'Neil, one of several "test cases" being used to challenge the military's "non-policy" about women in combat. O'Neil, who was denied the chance to fight in the Gulf War, has now been offered the unique opportunity of undergoing the grueling training necessary to become a Navy SEAL. It's a daunting task: 60% of those who start the program drop out, and those are men. Almost everyone, including Jordan's live-in boyfriend, Royce (Jason Beghe), expect her to fail. Her sponsor, Senator Lillian DeHaven (Anne Bancroft), has faith in her, however, and believes that if anyone can survive the training at Florida's Catalano Naval Base, it's O'Neil.

Looking to advance her career in the Navy, Jordan agrees to the challenge, but, from the moment she's introduced to her drill instructor, Command Master Chief John Urgayle (Viggo Mortensen), and the base commander, C.O. Salem (Scott Wilson), she begins to doubt her choice. But O'Neil presses on, battling subtle sexual harassment, the resentment of her fellow candidates, and the perception that she's being given special treatment because she's a woman. As the weeks wear on and O'Neil doesn't quit, she begins to make certain politicians nervous -- namely, those who were sure she wouldn't last through the training.

It seems like more than just six years since director Ridley Scott made Thelma and Louise, and virtually another lifetime since he was responsible for the science fiction classics Alien and Blade Runner. Recently, Scott's work has varied from moderately entertaining (White Squall) to downright awful (the ill-advised 1492). G.I. Jane is not likely to inflate his sinking reputation. In fact, this is the kind of generic output we have come to expect from his brother, Tony.

Actually, if you strip away all of the details surrounding Scott's most recent films, White Squall and G.I. Jane, you'll find that their naked plot skeletons look strikingly similar. Both feature a small group of intense individuals enduring difficult physical and mental conditions. Each offers a hard-bitten authority figure whose apparently cruel lessons turn out to be invaluable. And both highlight the circumstances that build bonds between initially hostile or indifferent characters. Ultimately, it's possible to find numerous parallels between White Squall and G.I. Jane, which may indicate that Scott has an affinity for this sort of material.

Of course, it's impossible to discuss this movie without mentioning its "issue": women's equality in the military. Unfortunately, the film's shallow (albeit sincere) treatment of the subject is more obligatory than thorough or thoughtful. And, although G.I. Jane avoids being overly preachy, it also doesn't offer any new or interesting insights, and doesn't come close to the level of intelligence displayed by last year's i>Courage Under Fire in tackling a different aspect of the same issue. The movie's two main points, that there is no true equality in the military and that politicians will trade the moral high ground for political favors, are obvious.

With a buff physique that has to be the result of an aggressive training regimen, Demi Moore has the body of an action heroine. Unfortunately, the dramatic aspects of her performance are not impressive enough to eclipse her personality. Truly gifted actors quickly shed their own image in favor of the character's. In this case, however, we're consistently aware that this is Demi Moore playing Jordan O'Neil, rather than a unique individual come to life on the screen. We never forget the actress long enough to lose ourselves in the character, and this awareness limits G.I. Jane's potential impact. The supporting cast, including Viggo Mortensen as O'Neil's drill instructor, Jason Beghe as her boyfriend, and Anne Bancroft as a senator, is solid.

With G.I. Jane, Scott has crafted an action/drama of passable entertainment value, but there's little here to astound or amaze any but the most casual or naive viewer. The movie does a reasonable job of engrossing an audience for two hours -- it's the kind of high energy, fast-paced film where you can guiltlessly root for the heroine to persevere -- but that's all it succeeds at. G.I. Jane is for those who prefer to cheer at the screen than be challenged by what's playing on it.

G.I. Jane (United States, 1997)

Run Time: 2:08
U.S. Release Date: 1997-08-22
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Violence, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1