Rated R - Running time: 1:56 - Released 6/18/99

While John Travolta has proven his considerable talent with thoughtful character parts in Michael, Primary Colors, and A Civil Action, his teeth-gritting tough guys (Broken Arrow, Face/Off) always leave something to be desired. And so it is in Simon West's The General's Daughter, an unsettling mystery about a young woman whose rape and murder sparks a revealing investigation of the U.S. Army's holiest of holies, West Point. Travolta is trying a little too hard here, and it shows. But it isn't really his fault, since his character, C.I.D. investigator Paul Brenner, is written with the depth of a frying pan.

Brenner has just finished an undercover gig at the Fort McCallum Army base in Savannah, Georgia, when a young female captain is found dead. Apparently raped and murdered, her body is naked and tied spread-eagle to the ground with tent stakes. When he begins to investigate, soon joined by his ex-lover and fellow agent Sarah Sunhill (Madeleine Stowe), he discovers that the deceased is Captain Elisabeth Campbell (Leslie Stefanson), who worked at the Army's Psy-Ops (Psychological Operations) department. She was the daughter of famous General Joe Campbell (James Cromwell), who is just about to retire and be nominated for vice president amid the accolades of his colleagues.

As Paul and Sarah uncover clues, however, they become more and more perplexed by the situation. They find a secret hideaway behind a false wall in Elisabeth's home, apparently an amateur movie studio where she and other soldiers made quasi-pornographic domination videos. Of some help is Elisabeth's apparent closest friend, Psy-Ops commander Colonel Moore (James Woods). His relationship to her leads Paul and Sarah to pin him as the most likely suspect (as perhaps a jealous lover), but when they discover he is a homosexual, they feel differently. Next thing you know, Moore is dead, and everyone seems overly anxious to conclude that he murdered Elisabeth and then killed himself out of guilt. But Paul smells a rat, and it ain't the Army rations.

Written by rookie Christopher Bertolini, with the help of veteran William Goldman (The Princess Bride), from the novel by Nelson DeMille, The General's Daughter is peppered with stereotypical Army psychopaths, melodramatic behavior, and unlikely circumstances. Intended as an exposé on the abuse faced by women in the military, it goes too far to be taken seriously. Not that atrocities have not been perpetrated against women (and men, too) in the armed forces, but it's the general's reaction to the rape of his daughter that I can't swallow. The film attempts to fool us into thinking this was a true story with a paragraph at the end telling us what happened to all the characters afterward and what consequences were faced. But if you wait a few more minutes, you'll see the familiar disclaimer: "All persons and events in this film are fictitious." No kidding. ***

Copyright 1999 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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