It's easy to picture Danielle Alexandra, the writer known as 'the female Tom Clancy,' pitching G.I. Jane to a rapt roomful of studio suits. An action-intensive, politically charged saga that imagines the trials and triumphs of the first woman to undergo training as a Navy SEAL must have sounded like a pulse-pounding rouser, a cannily commercial guy movie that would have equal appeal to female moviegoers.
But, despite the estimable Ridley Scott's high-testosterone direction, the throbbing pace provided by JFK editor Pietro Scalia, and a yeoman effort on both sides of the camera, G.I. Jane is Flashdance with epaulets, a simplistic, succeed-against-the-odds fantasy in Simpson-Bruckheimer mode that's every bit as generic as the several other uninspired, high-ticket studio actioners that failed to light a fire under moviegoers this summer.
When a highly capable Naval Intelligence officer, Lieutenant Jordan O'Neil (Demi Moore), is recruited as the test-case SEALs trainee, it isn't because the Navy actually intends to introduce women to its elite, covert operations unit. Rather, it's the price extracted by Senate Armed Services Committee head Lillian De Haven (Anne Bancroft) for her support of the newly appointed Secretary of the Navy. Only 40 percent of those who begin the SEALs' brutal training program manage to get through it, and nobody expects O'Neil to last longer than a week. Still, there's much to be gained: The Navy will prove that women can't withstand the rigors of combat training, and De Haven will look like a women's-rights champion to her female constituency.
Both sides, however, have underestimated O'Neil's strength, intelligence and steely-eyed indomitability. First, she convinces her superiors to let her share her male peers' living quarters; then she gets them to ignore the separate performance standards that make allowances for women. Little by little, O'Neil earns the respect of her formerly contemptuous fellow trainees and emerges as a leader.
When it appears that she's going to complete the training, O'Neil employs her strategic skills to undo allegations of lesbianism that have been trumped up against her, and when the penultimate training mission, held in the Mediterranean, thrusts the soon-to-be SEALs into a real-life skirmish with the Libyan Army, O'Neil gets the chance to prove herself in the field. 'I'll go to war with you any day,' declares a former detractor in the movie's final moments.
While there's nothing wrong with the concept of G.I. Jane, its treatment is patently unconvincing. Several scenes border on the ludicrous-during an exercise meant to simulate capture, interrogation and torture, a horribly beaten O'Neil answers her tormentors' demand for information with a profane, three-word retort guaranteed to make the stoutest-hearted viewer wince-and the music-driven montages of O'Neil shaving her head and exercising while hanging by her feet off her upper bunk are rendered with lip-licking, music-video lasciviousness.
It doesn't help that the movie was written for Moore. Although she impressively meets the role's strenuous physical demands, she seems incapable of eliciting audience empathy, and her performance is effortful and humorless. Viggo Mortensen, as the SEALs' trainer; Anne Bancroft, as the pragmatic Senator; and Jason Beghe, as O'Neil's highly placed Navy boyfriend, do what they can with what they've been given.
This time out, the Ridley Scott of Blade Runner, Alien and Thelma & Louise is nowhere in evidence. He's done a thoroughly professional job, but it doesn't alter the fact that G.I. Jane is Barb Wire's better-educated second cousin.