August 2128, 1997
When action heroines get tough, they gotta have an agenda.
Time was when summer action was all about testosterone, with boys the primary target viewers, as well as the most prominent onscreen and behind-the-scenes players. Nowadays, it looks as though the genre 's parameters and focus are changed (or broadened, somewhat). Thanks in large part to the continuing popularity of Ripley and Sarah Conner (not to mention all those courageous slasher movie survivors who' ve been kicking creature-ass for years), girls can do it too. Girls can shoot, kick, run, drive, punch, surmount terrible tortures and betrayals, and annihilate their nemeses with resolute moral righteousness. Finally, it would appear that pop culture purveyors have noticed that tough girls can draw audiences (male and female). Think Alicia S ilverstone, Alanis Morissette-and-clones, Jennifer Lopez, Sleater-Kinney, Angela Bassett, Da Brat, Drew Barrymore, Daria, Lil' Kim and Missy Elliot. Women with muscle metaphorical and literal are getting paid.
Among the better paid is Demi Moore. At the moment, she's starring in Ridley Scott's G.I. Jane. Opening alongside it is another female-centered action thriller, Guillermo Del Toro's Mimic , with Mira Sorvino. Doubtless there are mixed reasons both crass and conscientious for the appearance of these particular movies at this time: they'll make money and points. G.I. Jane looks topical (how fortuitous for Hollywood Pictures that the military has recently been scandalized by accusations of sexual harassment) and pretty. See the moody shadows and music-montage sequences. See Demi do one-armed push-ups, her sweaty abs gliste ning in the golden-filtered light, listen to Chrissie Hynde sound off for the cause. There's also lots of praise circulating about Moore's hard-body work for the shoot: recall that she also worked out for Striptease, but stripping doesn 't get the same props as combat training.
And whatever your feelings about Moore's much-ballyhooed head-buzz, she's actually fine in G.I. Jane, which isn't to say that the movie is. Unlike guys, chicks in action pix must carry agendas. No woman, the prevailing logic goes, could be hardcore without assiduously explained motivation. For Moore's Jordan O'Neil, the immediate issue is the military 's ingrown sexist bullshit. A naval intelligence officer, she's very good at what she does: in an early crisis-in-the-control-room scene, she demonstrates that she's more intuitive and intelligent than the boys around her. Still, she 's behind her boyfriend (Jason Beghe) in the promotions race, because he's had "operational experience" in the Gulf, experience she has no opportunity to gain. She' s astute enough to be pissed about this, but as the film opens, without resources to challenge the powers that be.
She doesn't have to wait long. A wily Texas senator (Anne Bancroft) cuts a deal with the Navy mucky-mucks: they agree to put a woman into the Seals training program, expecting her to fail within a week. Jordan comes through: she endures much slogging throu gh mud and water, heavy lifting, and abuse by fellow trainees and superior officers. Of course, she earns the trainees' respect (note of no surprise: the black guy [Morris Chestnut] is the first to stand up for her, as the film draws the clunky analogy betw een race and gender integrations). And she does suggest to her surly, self-righteous commanding officer, the Master Chief (Viggo Mortensen), that he treat her as an "equal."
He sort of does that until he decides to use her as an example for the boys. When, during an exercise, Jordan's unit is captured by the "enemy," Master Chief gets medieval on her ass. This scene involves a lot of punching and kicking, the suggestion that he's about to rape her, and the disapproval of every other guy (one opines that he's gone "too far" : I forget if there was a drum roll at that point). The incident leads to his comeuppance and her consecration as heroically spunky: she beats the shit out of him and tells him to "Suck my dick!" The scene isn' t as mean or hard to watch as a similar one in Eric Karson's Opposing Force (1986), in which major Tom Skerritt actually does rape lieutenant Lisa Eichhorn, but it makes its point, that Jordan can hold her own even against cheaters.
But even that point gets turned around in a plot turn that might be understood as "equality"-driven, in that Jordan' s major betrayal comes not from any of the guys (who, after all, are genetically predisposed to respect demonstrations of hardness), but from that prickly lady senator. That the betrayal invol ves accusations of lesbianism is neither surprising nor unrealistic, but the film's refusal to deal with any of the issues that get dredged up in this context is disappointing. For all its chest-pounding about equal gender rights, G.I. Jane is squeamish when it comes to sexuality.