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Butch-ered

G.I. Jane traps a testosterone-poisoned lunkhead in Demi Moore's body

For all her steeliness in G.I. Jane, Moore still goes in for a few quick body-work montages that look like snazzy promos for S&M. Blast those abs in a skimpy T-shirt! Her butch buzzcut, which is supposed to be so shocking, actually looks rather smart on her. It complements the better-living-through-plastic tautness of her bod. She is better than usual in G.I. Jane because her unyieldingness and mettle at least have a reason for being. But she's such an unvarying actress that after a while Jordan becomes just about as big a blank as the guy platoon.

Perhaps this explains why Ridley Scott pumps the film with hyper-engineered action sequences, the cinematic equivalent of testosterone. Scott is being given undue credit in the press for championing strong women in his movies -- besides Jordan, there's Thelma and Louise, and Sigourney Weaver's Ripley in Alien. What seems closer to the truth is that he's transposing the most stereotypical male action traits onto women and, in the process, reaping kudos for being "liberated."

But there's nothing liberated about, for example, those body-work montages or the way Scott deals with the gays-in-the-military issue. When a false story about Jordan being a lesbian is leaked to the press, she reacts as violently as if she'd been crucified. It's one thing for Jordan to go haywire, but the filmmakers too? Suppose Jordan were gay? G.I. Jane takes the narrow view that homosexuality in the military exists as a weapon to besmirch heterosexual crusaders. If Jordan were actually gay, the film would come apart at the seams. A better film wouldn't.

Especially in the '30s and '40s, Hollywood knew how to create tough-cookie women who could cut men down to size and make us love them for it. (Just about any Howard Hawks heroine could do it.) The excitement of such women -- Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday or Myrna Loy or Joan Blondell or Bette Davis or many others -- was in the way they cauterized the maidenly mush of four-hankie femininity. When these dames parried with men, their patter really smoked.

It's a measure of how far we've sunk since then that the blank and bulked-up Jordan in G.I. Jane should be hailed as some kind of feminist icon. It's bad enough that throughout the world, male muscleheads are Hollywood's reigning champs. Must we now gear up for female zombie warriors as the latest line in phony-baloney empowerment?

G.I. Jane.
Directed by Ridley Scott. With Demi Moore, Viggo Mortensen, Anne Bancroft, Scott Wilson, Jason Beghe, Lucinda Jenney and Morris Chestnut. Rated R. 125 minutes.

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