Friday, September 28, 2012

Dis-Missed!: "The General's Daughter" (1999)

In order to fully discuss everything that is wrong with this film, and there is quite a lot, I am warning you that many spoilers are on the horizon of this review.

John Travolta is an undercover military cop who is investigating the rape and murder of an Army officer, who happens to be the daughter of an Army general who is being considered as a vice-presidential running mate. Travolta is stuck with rape expert Madeleine Stowe, who happens to be a former lover. Trouble right there already. Travolta is pressured by the general (James Cromwell) and his aide (a very unmilitary looking Clarence Williams III) to hurry the investigation along before the FBI is brought in. Among the suspects are creepy James Woods as the daughter's commander, the general's aide, and the local hick sheriff's son.

The daughter, it turns out, liked her sex a little rough, and kept video recordings of it. Travolta, who briefly met the daughter while he was undercover as a hick sergeant, takes the case personally. Timothy Hutton plays the military police commander who helps Travolta and Stowe along with their investigation.

While not covering everything in this convoluted plot, it turns out that the daughter was raped while at West Point, and general daddy covered it up because it would ruin the idea of women in the military, and West Point's reputation. The daughter decides to recreate the rape for her father to let him know what she lived through, and was murdered by someone unknown after her father left the awkward confrontation.

Travolta and Stowe stumble across more suspects than a two hour "Murder, She Wrote" reunion movie, yet find time to trade verbal love barbs that sound like rejected lines never uttered by Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in "His Girl Friday." The condescending attitude these two have toward military life is staggering. Woods' character points this out, and is promptly murdered for it. Finally, the climax reveals the killer, and everything is wrapped up in a neat little package.

First, a positive: Simon West's direction is great. He finds little things to focus his camera on, and his editing is quick without inducing a headache. It would be interesting to see what he would do with a script that doesn't play like it was written on a dinner napkin.

The negatives? Here goes. This film hates women and hates the military and really hates women in the military. All the officers are psychopathic sexual sadists and the non-commissioned officers are stupid hicks. Just because the film takes place in Virginia, does not mean that all stationed military personnel there will have a southern accent. I lived at RAF Mildenhall, England for six months, yet did not come back to the states and call everyone either "bloke" or "gov'ner." Travolta and Stowe, amongst their cutesy bantering, break almost every evidence and interrogation law known to man, just because they are the cool hero couple. A subplot involving Travolta's run-ins with the local hick sheriff is embarrassing. After Travolta kills a gun runner with a motorboat (don't ask), he gets uppity with the local police, who understandably have questions. Travolta's arrogance wears thin very quickly.

Suggesting the daughter was raped at West Point, then martyred herself to cover up this fact is ridiculous. The film says, "women should be in the military, but they are being stopped by these fictional characters in this fictional situation." The three star general, who does nothing more than sit in his office and smoke all day, also puts the army ahead of his home life. The scene where he finds his daughter after she has reenacted her earlier rape is embarrassing as a viewer, and looks embarrassing to the actors. It should have been embarrassing to the writers and director, but apparently they decided to leave their scruples at home that day.

In the end, the killer offs themselves with a landmine, which apparently any active duty personnel can attain. The general is court-martialed for his role in his daughter's victimization, and Travolta wins. God bless our armed forces.

This film came out during the eight year reign of the Clintons, who had never been friends of the military. Maybe this is why people saw this and thought nothing of it. I, on the other hand, was an Air Force brat most of my life, and I still want someone to show me the mansions the officers live in, the sexual depravity that they must exhibit, and the civilians who do not get along with anyone else in uniform. That's right, 99.9% of everything that happens in this film would not happen in real life.

I am aware that this is a story, not a documentary, but some semblance of fact would help. Incredible leaps in logic are not dealt with, just accepted. The only two actresses here are raped, or threatened with rape.

If anything, considering the current political and military climate, "The General's Daughter" should make anyone who ever had a loved one serve overseas sick. In Hollywood, it is always popular to trash the military, it has been since Vietnam, but I for one am not going to take it any longer. My father defended this country for almost thirty years, from Thailand to Okinawa to the U.S. to England, and in my eyes he will always stand a little taller than a bunch of whiny liberal actors all dressed up in camoflauge and thrusting their nutty agenda on an unsuspecting nation.

I get off my soapbox and give a one finger salute to this stupid, wretched, sleazy film. (*) out of five stars.