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Film review: G.I. Jane

Published: Friday, Aug. 22 1997 1:01 p.m. MDT

"Thelma & Louise" is a marvelous character drama/action-thriller with a feminist twist, so one might rightly expect the director of that film to handle "G.I. Jane" with the same aplomb.

Instead, however, Ridley Scott seems to be imitating his brother Tony, whose "Top Gun" set the standard for mindless contemporary wartime heroics. In fact, in terms of plot, "G.I. Jane" plays very much like "Top Gun" — except that this one also has a feminist twist. Sort of.

Demi Moore — and maybe her presence should qualify as a red flag all by itself — plays a Navy intelligence officer who becomes the first woman to enter the high-stress Navy SEALs program, a covert unit that boasts a 60 percent dropout rate in its training program.

Though more than up to the task, she is actually in the program to satisfy the ego of a grandstanding Texas senator (Anne Bancroft), whose political ambitions will compromise Moore late in the film.

Most of the movie, however, is devoted to Moore's SEALs training, and her interaction with members of an elite all-male group that wants desperately to see her fail. That is especially true of her abusive master chief (Viggo Mortensen).

Naturally, she overcomes all obstacles and, naturally, a Middle East crisis occurs, which forces the rookie SEALs into a dangerous combat mission where Moore heroically saves the day.

That all of this is slick and pat and ridiculous is to be expected. And never mind that no woman has ever been a member of the Navy SEALs and that the film was made without Navy cooperation, or that even the title of the movie is inaccurate (G.I., which stands for "General Issue," is Army slang for combat soldiers).

But about halfway through the picture, Scott seems to lose his way, and the film enters an unexpected commercially exploitative arena, which seems at odds with its feminist agenda.

During the usual mid-movie music video, Moore begins a workout regimen of strenuous one-hand pushups and pullups, clad in a tube top and shorts, her body (and bald head) gleaming with sweat against the backlit barracks (a shot that may bring to mind "Close Encounters of the Third Kind"). And Scott's camera starts traveling up and down her buff body in closeup.

Maybe Moore plans to lift this segment from the film and market it as a workout video. (Or, dare we suggest it, a Playboy video?)

Also ill-advised is a subtext of sexual harassment by Mortensen's character, who walks in on Moore when she's showering, and later, during an intense training exercise, attempts to rape her. (She escapes and beats him up, with both hands tied behind her back . . . literally.)

Even the performances are disappointing, with everyone reduced to histrionics and overacting, including wild-eyed Bancroft.

And Scott's herky-jerky camera work in the climactic battle scene is really annoying.

"G.I. Jane" is rated R for violence, attempted rape, profanity, vulgarity, nudity.