The General's Daughter

on June 18, 1999 by Francesca Dinglasan
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   With events such as the well-publicized ill-treatment of female students at the Citadel military academy, dismissal of women Air Force officers for adultery (while their male counterparts go unpunished) and the large-scale sexual harassment activities involved in the Tailhook scandal, it was only a matter of time before a film that highlights the misogyny inherent in the American military was made. Unfortunately, in "The General's Daughter," the theme of systematic gender abuse, symbolized through the brutal rape and murder of the title character, works more as a device that allows crack army warrant officer Paul Brenner (John Travolta) to show off his tough investigative skills, rather than making a statement about the hateful acts perpetrated against female soldiers.
   The film opens with Brenner working undercover to bust an illegal arms dealer. Besides establishing Brenner as a Criminal Investigation Division top dog who's willing to kick some serious bad guy ass, the 20-minute sequence is completely disconnected from the rest of the film (and contains a scene of extremely gratuitous violence). The plotline is eventually revealed when Brenner is summoned to look at the naked corpse of Captain Elisabeth Campbell (Leslie Stefanson), which had been discovered on a secluded part of an army base. Sarah Sunhill (Madeleine Stowe), another Criminal Investigation Division veteran, joins in his investigation--a pairing that is apparently supposed to spark sexual tension because of a previous romantic involvement between the two CID workers.
   Together, the pair finds inconsistencies regarding the circumstances of the murder, including the victim's secret S&M-driven sex life. The fact that she was the daughter of the general (James Cromwell), who has hopes of entering politics, means results of the investigation, especially details about Captain Campbell's extracurricular activities, have to be kept strictly within the army and away from the public--a play on the military's good old boy image as an organization that takes care of its own.
   Despite moments of mounting suspense, the film suffers from stilted unevenness. If one minute of the action inspires edge-of-the-seat interest, the next one quickly kills the feeling through Travolta's ineffective one-liners and attempts to force non-existent emotions (such as Stowe's eyes brimming with tears when she hears her partner recount an overly soppy story to the general). It's really too bad that the military didn't conspire to keep this one away from the American public.    Starring John Travolta, Madeleine Stowe, James Cromwell, Timothy Hutton, Leslie Stefanson, Daniel Von Bargen, Clarence Willliam III and James Woods. Directed by Simon West. Written by Christopher Bertolini and William Goldman. Produced by Marc Neufeld. A Paramount release. Rated R for violence and graphic sexual references. Running time: 116 min.
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