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The General's Daughter

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The General's Daughter

Starring: John Travolta, Madeleine Stowe
Director: Simon West
Rated: R
RunTime: 115 Minutes
Release Date: June 1999
Genre: Thriller

*Also starring: James Cromwell, Timothy Hutton, Clarence Williams III, Boyd Kestner, Rick Dial, James Woods, Leslie Stefanson

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

"The General's Daughter" is the sort of movie that will be cheered by people who hate their fathers. Throw in folks who dislike and mistrust all authority and you have a box office success. Just wait for the hoops and hollers when the honchos get their comeuppance! But if you have good taste you'll recognize early on that while the concept that drives the film has originality, Simon West directs Christopher Bertolini and William Goldman's screenplay--based on a novel of the same name by Nelson DeMille--with the usual plot mechanisms, a conventional narrative approach, and hyped soundtracks to create dramatic tension when virtually none exists. (You know that a film is desperate when the music division resorts to the greatest cliche of all, Carmina Burana-- which is more appropriate to horror flicks.)

Since "The General's Daughter" involves crimes of violence in the military with cover-ups abounding, it brings to mind similar works like "A Few Good Men" and "A Soldier's Story." The former movie, based on a Broadway play, deals with the trial of two Marines for complicity in the death of a fellow Marine while they were serving on the U.S. military base on Guantanamo. The case puts the whole military mentality on trial. In the latter film, which is based on an off-Broadway play, a white commanding officer in charge of a black company whose sergeant has been murdered has the military on edge because the killer may be a white officer or a member of the local Klan. The point: when films deal with the genre of crime in the military, they often consider investigations to be nothing less than inquiries that could shake the entire armed forces to their foundation. "The General's Daughter" is no exception.

"The General's Daughter" focuses on Warrant Officer Paul Brenner (John Travolta), a sergeant who is working undercover with the army's criminal investigation division. Though a non-commissioned officer, he seems to have the authority to bust personnel as high as generals, but not just to apprehend them. He just loves to use his superior brawn to get the perps into hammerlocks, cuff them, throw them against walls, and then tell their lawyers that in this man's army the defendants do not have the right to counsel. He is conveniently paired with Warrant Officer Sarah Sunderland (Madeleine Stowe) with whom--for no reason other than to create romantic tension when none would ordinarily exist--he once had a dalliance. The story opens on Lt. General Campbell (James Cromwell, the farmer from "Babe"), who is receiving a retirement banquet from hordes of officers as the great man prepares to accept a vice presidential nomination. (Wouldn't it be great to see this apparatchik get his from a sergeant?) When the general's daughter, Capt. Elizabeth Campbell (Leslie Stefanson), is raped and strangled, Brenner and Sunderland take swift action to get to the bottom of the crime, but not before Brenner proves his vigor by ridding Fort MacCallum of a racist gun-runner.

This initial James-Bond style escapade serves as the only exciting moment of shoot-em-up dynamics. Subsequently, the movie sinks into the usual unbelievable scenes commonly found in whodunits that feature flat dialogue, macho men, vulnerable women, crazed killers, nutty victims, and/or cover-up attempts involving high officials. The discovery of porn tapes in one officer's secret room--in the living quarters of the army official you'd least expect to possess these--creates renewed interest part-way into the story, but before this movie can begin to drum up the interest found in "8mm" the detectives are off on the more banal cause: to blow the lid off the military.

Travolta is most interesting during the first couple of minutes when he puts on a convincing Bill Clinton accent to fool the MP's at the fort, but then spends his time either manhandling people well above his rank or flirting badly with his partner, played without enthusiasm by the Madeleine Stowe. You'd think that Col. Fowler (Clarence Williams III), who is the right-hand man of the general, would crack a little smile, just once, and that Timothy Hutton would try to show us some of the charm he rewarded us with as a college instructor in "The Substance of Fire." But no...everyone in this picture takes himself or herself far too seriously as if to prove that if you don't crack a smile or burst into laughter at the silliness of the plot, you must be a darn good actor.

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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