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IN SHORT: You can put a pretty little Band-Aid on a festering sore, but underneath ol' Papa Smurf is still a very unpleasant reality. [Rated [R]]
As always, no comparison is made to the Source Material. Though, if you read the novel by Nelson DeMille, you are more than prepared for what is to come. If not, take time to ponder the question star John Travolta poses to star James Woods in the trailer and commercial" "What's worse than rape?" Cranky had one answer (murder). His date had another (incest). We were both wrong. That should be intriguing enough. Now let's get down to the nitty gritty.
You can hire a cannon load of star power, both on the screen and behind the screenwriter's keyboard (and writer William Goldman is a name to be reckoned with) and, despite all the best intentions, you can still walk out of a movie with an awful feeling in the pit of your stomach. Cranky is choosing his words very carefully because, despite a number of minor flaws, The General's Daughter is not crap. It is a murder mystery whose twists and turns lead to most unappealing revelations of personal perversions and notions of duty to country. It is a movie whose opening sections veer back and forth from a hard edged military cop undercover on a case to a poor Tracey-Hepburn-ish work relationship. [and if that description doesn't have you confused, by the time this thing sets itself on an even keel things get downright nasty.]
At lovely Fort MacCallum, deep down in Georgia, General Campbell (James Cromwell) is retiring from a lustrous career in the Service. His future includes a fast track to Commander in Chief if he takes the VP political nomination expected to be offered to him. His lovely daughter Elisabeth (Leslie Stefanson) is a Captain in the Psychological Operations division ("We **** with people's minds"). The First Sergeant with the bad southern accent is, in reality, Warrant Officer Paul Brenner (Travolta), an undercover investigator for the military Criminal Investigative Division assigned to crack an illegal weapons sale.
A nice bit of tastefully edited bloodshed later, it's on to the meat and potatoes of this movie, the murder of the Captain, found strangled, spread-eagled naked, staked to tent pegs in the middle of a military training ground. Also present at the scene is CID Rape Investigator Sarah Sunhill (Madeline Stowe), whom Brenner eyes with no recognition. A couple of scenes later they're best buds recounting a once upon a time brief liaison, ended at the point of a revolver in the hands of her fiancé. That's the first of two "where did that come from?" bits I'll mention.
With a 36 hour deadline to solve the case, before the FBI must be called in (not to mention the local cops barking at the gate), the first hint of an "Us versus Them" military mentality begins to emerge. Add to this an incredible mix of men with motives. The General has an agenda. His aide, Colonel Fowler (Clarence Williams III) has got one as do the Captain's mentor, Colonel Moore (Woods), the Provost Colonel Kent (Timothy Hutton), the local Chief of Police (Daniel Von Bargen) and half the enlisted men on the base.
Director Simon West's style which, like television commercials, ordains edits spaced no more than eight seconds apart, is visually distracting enough to make the unpleasant stuff to come bearable (as opposed to its use in Con Air, which was just exhausting). Sometimes, as in a scene between Travolta and Woods that you'll be seeing ad nauseum in talk show appearances, The General's Daughter crackles with the tension and energy that psychological thrillers are supposed to. Once all is revealed, you may find yourself discussing the political attitudes of the flick.
The performances are fine. Believable characters are necessary to keep you from shutting down your brain as the story gets more and more complicated. While Cranky wishes the violence could have been toned down a bit, he didn't see the resolution coming.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The General's Daughter, he would have paid...
$5.00 is normal dateflick level. While you may date to this, be aware that the star power is camouflage for some truly unpleasant stories in this flick.
The one hint I'll pass on, 'cuz Travolta mumbles his line, is that something significant happened during Elisabeth's sophomore year at West Point. Trust me, the line is there. Blink or cough and you'll miss it and find yourself wondering "where did that come from?" an hour down the line.
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