Film Review: Corporal punishment

GI JANE (15) Directed by Ridley Scott
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There's a mangled sensibility running through GI Jane; it is how the women's movement might have turned out if the suffragettes had been commandeered by Emma Peel.

You can go with the picture in good faith up to a point. Then you start to suspect that it was written by a sixth-form debating team whose knowledge of feminism begins and ends with the first Spice Girls album. In one scene, the camera catches sight of a news broadcast about Jordan O'Neil, played by Demi Moore, who has made the headlines by being the first woman permitted to try out for the notoriously demanding navy Seals unit. The newscaster starts to introduce a studio guest who will offer a feminist slant on the story. Then suddenly the camera cuts away - a clear indication of the writers' concern that such a perspective would unravel the entire fabric of their film. The scene where that anonymous studio guest argues that imitating macho rituals is not in itself an act of female empowerment, and that Demi Moore has to chain herself to a few railings before her shaven head is going to mean anything at all, will just have to be one of those great film moments that never was.

Ridley Scott, the direct of GI Jane, has had immense success before with another film in which women gained power and respect only once they had appropriated traditional male behaviour. In Thelma and Louise, the title characters were rewarded for their efforts with a suicide scene. In GI Jane, Jordan O'Neil survives, technically, but it is hard not to see her victory as a superficial achievement which earns her the badge of Honorary Man. Is there a film that would dare to dole the same treatment to a black character, or a gay one?

And what does she actually end up with after the months of humiliation? She gets men saying: "You know something? You're all right!", which, lets face it, you can hear from any bloke in any pub on any night of the week, so long as it's your round.

Jordan gets to live in her own real life Budweiser commercial, drinking with the boys and laughing at their stupid dirty stories. On a literal level, you may question whether it's worth doing months of 5am push-ups in order to hang out with men whose idea of foreplay is to wolf whistle. But, as Jordan points out, it's a matter of having the choice.

Scott could have done more to reflect the glee of simple freedoms; there should have been a tinge of excitement in the final battle scenes, where Jordan blends in with the rest of the unit and becomes just another soldier, but the sequence is a mess of self-consciously jerky camera work and careful sloppiness. Scott's style throughout the film is marked by a general sense of haste bordering on boredom. His work has frequently been austere but here it has a galumphing laziness; he seems bamboozled by the script's mixture of sombre sexual politics and sleazy wham-bam violence.

No matter how many training exercises he compresses into montage form, he can't strike an appropriate rhythm with any of them. Even the music drifts in and out without purpose as though someone was accidentally leaning on the fader.

When Scott does strive for a deliberate effect more often than not its banal. There's a cut which goes straight from the line "The most intensive military training known to man" to a reaction shot of Jordan. That's wit - Ridley Scott style. David Mamet's Oleanna wasn't the last word on the power that language plays in sexual politics, but at least Mamet saw that dialogue should serve as something more progressive than a means of closure or one-upmanship. The writers of GI Jane, Danielle Alexandra and David Twohy, believe that by simply underlining the absurdity in addressing a woman as Madam Chairman, they are subtlely denouncing sexism, and Scott's attempts at ironic cross-cutting only serve their delusions.

GI Jane is politically immature, but it's a surprise to find that it doesn't even function on a dramatic level. It has a promising opening, introducing us to the senator (Anne Bancroft) whose fight for sexual equality leads to Jordan being accepted into the Seals. When it is discovered later that the senator has been manipulating Jordan's feat for the advancement of her own career, she is quickly jettisoned from the film as a gender traitor. But I wanted to know more about her, and about the benign officer, played by Lucinda Jenney, who is used as a pawn in a smear campaign against Jordan. She has a fey smile, both sorrowful and flirtatious, that promises mysteries.

In the Lou Gossett Jnr role from An Officer and a Gentleman, Viggo Mortensen gives off a cruel strutting arrogance that is pure Hitler Youth. In a training exercise set in a fort that resembles an Apocalypse Now! theme park, he tries to knock the stuffing out of Jordan, only for her to retaliate with the rambunctious if anatomically incorrect "suck my dick!". As her team mates take up that rally refrain one by one, transforming it into an inspiration chorus, you feel as though you are watching the "Captain My Captain" scene from Dead Poets' Society played out by foul-mouthed Borstal boys.

Even within the film's narrow regime of repetitive sadism there are opportunities for comedy that go unnoticed. When Jordan announces to her commanding officer "I'm expecting a certain amount of pain", she has all the priggish self-satisfaction of Isabella waltzing into the convent at the start of Measure for Measure and "Wishing a more strict restraint" on the sisterhood that she is about to enter. An intuitive director might have pointed out the smugness in Jordan's tone, before allowing it to gradually lose out to her determination. Scott can't see that some breezy comic distance would make the film bearable for those viewers who don't get a kick out of seeing how many blows to the head Demi Moore can take before losing consciousness. Without that lightness of touch, his film is just Private Benjamin with scalp stubble and a frown.

See overleaf for this week's other new releases ...TEXT: Fan Facts

Demi Moore: `GI Jane'

Bared: "There is no way you can isolate Hollywood from sex," says Demi, who revealed all many times in her last film, Striptease. "I think nudity is natural and beautiful. In the film I had to get up and strip in front of 100 people. It wasn't a love scene so I couldn't clear the room. I felt the anticipation of people waiting for my bra to come off."

Trashed: Demi and husband Bruce Willis were among the targets of two French paparazzi who purloined and photographed the contents of Hollywood stars' dustbins. The most poignant item was a hand-written 210-scene movie script which some hopeful had sent to Bruce. Better luck next time, buddy.

Bared again: The Bare Facts Video Guide offers film fans a comprehensive rundown of their favourite stars' nude scenes. Demi, of course, has an impressive entry. The choice selection comes after only five minutes of Indecent Proposal: "in black bra, briefs, buns and breasts while making out with Woody Harrelson on the kitchen floor."

Defrocked: Demi Moore and Bruce Willis have lost their cushy gig modelling clothes for designer Donna Karan. An insider said: "Donna thought that because Demi and Bruce were her friends, it would be fun. But Demi wasn't happy just wearing the clothes, she began to redesign them and Bruce went along with her. So they had to go!"

Disciplined: To prepare for Striptease, each day Demi did two-hour workouts, which included mountain biking, snowshoeing and kayaking. She clocked up six miles on a treadmill followed by an hour of lunges and squats.

Cleansed: She likes to snack on beansprouts and broccoli.

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