[Screen It]


(1999) (John Travolta, Madeleine Stowe) (R)

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Drama: Assigned to look into the murder and possible rape of an Army captain, two military investigators uncover a scandal that points to many suspects and threatens to reveal some disturbing secrets.
A murder and apparent rape have been committed at Fort MacCallum, Georgia, and warrant officer Paul Brenner (JOHN TRAVOLTA), an investigator for the Army's Criminal Investigation Division (CID), is called in to work the case. Something of a soldier/cop hybrid, Brenner has the power to arrest anyone in the military, no matter their rank, and immediately sets out gathering evidence.

It seems that Captain Elisabeth Campbell (LESLIE STEFANSON), a rising military star and specialist in Psychological Operations, was found dead and bound in the middle of a training field. As a result, the base's Provost Marshall, Colonel William Kent (TIMOTHY HUTTON), has called in his old buddy, Brenner, to investigate the case.

Complications immediately ensue, however, as Brenner discovers that the victim's father is retiring three-star general Joe Campbell (JAMES CROMWELL), his former commanding officer and current potential Vice Presidential candidate. The General is willing to cooperate in any fashion, but both he and his right-hand man, Colonel George Fowler (CLARENCE WILLIAMS III), want Brenner to do things the Army way, and inform him that he only has thirty-six hours before the FBI will arrive and take over the case.

To complicate matters even further, Brenner discovers that the CID rape investigator assigned to the case is Sarah Sunhill (MADELEINE STOWE), a woman with whom he was romantically involved in the past.

As the two begin investigating the case and interview Elisabeth's former psychiatrist Colonel Donald Slesinger (JOHN BEASLEY), they soon uncover a scandal that may rock the base and indict any number of suspects. Among them are the General, his assistant, the victim's mentor and commanding officer, Colonel Robert Moore (JAMES WOODS), several enlisted men and even a local cop, Deputy Yardley (CHRIS SNYDER), all of whom were somehow involved with the victim and now appear suspicious to the investigating team.

If they're fans of Travolta or others in the cast, they probably will, but this one seems aimed at older teens at best.
For graphic images relating to sexual violence including a strong rape scene, some perverse sexuality, nudity and language.
  • JOHN TRAVOLTA plays a cocky and confrontational investigator. In doing so, he cusses some, smokes some cigars while playing an undercover role, and occasionally uses violence while interrogating suspects.
  • MADELEINE STOWE plays his investigatory partner, a smart and confident woman who helps solve the case. She also cusses a bit.
  • JAMES CROMWELL plays the General who doesn't think he was wrong in telling his daughter to act as if her rape never occurred so as to protect the "better good" of the Army.
  • TIMOTHY HUTTON plays an MP who turns out not to be a good guy.
  • CLARENCE WILLIAMS III plays General Campbell's personal assistant who often runs interference against Brenner's plans.
  • JAMES WOODS plays Elisabeth's boss who knew about and possibly participated in her kinky S&M activities.
  • LESLIE STEFANSON plays the murder victim who, before her untimely demise, appeared to be a military "mover and shaker," but her confidence hid a kinky S&M fetish as well as the results of having been gang raped in the past.


    OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
    If there's one thing I hate about murder mystery stories, it's the all encompassing, late in the game confession from the guilty party that explains everything and conveniently ties up the story's loose ends. Most TV shows of the genre conclude that way, and the same holds true for many similar films.

    As such, it's a cheap and lazy way to impart crucial information in what's always an unrealistic fashion. After all, how often in real life do criminals do the same? In fact, it's almost as bad as films where the villain leaves the hero to die a slow death instead of just killing them right there and then, but that's another rant for another time.

    In "The General's Daughter," a film based on Nelson DeMille's 1992 novel, the killer not only explains his underlying motives, but other characters similarly decide -- for reasons that only make sense to a screenwriter -- to spill the beans. As a confessional is to Catholics as a place to confess their sins, the end of most murder mystery movies is the same to the guilty and unfortunately that's the case here.

    Worse yet, it's not the only problem with this big summer release that will probably evoke such a love/hate response from the audience that moviegoers will think they're suffering from the old Jekyll and Hyde disorder.

    On the positive side, the film has the feel of a big-scale picture with an all-star cast, some decent moments and an intriguing story. On the flip side, it deals with some unsavory and ugly subject matter that it then manages to sexualize. In addition, and beyond suffering from the confession- based problems, the film also has some plot elements that are too contrived and/or unbelievable for their and the film's overall own good.

    As helmed by director Simon West ("Con Air") who works from the screenplay adaption by William Goldman (an Oscar winner for "All the President's Men" and "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid") and Christopher Bertolini (his first feature), the film can't ultimately overcome the troubling rape material. To make matter worse, the script twists around that touchy subject into a male fantasy element that would make titillation master Joe "Basic Instinct" Ezsterhas proud.

    While the rape itself and the immediate family reaction are appropriately troubling, the film doesn't stop there. Instead, it repeatedly shows the audience several views of the deceased woman's nude, but still sexy body lying spread-eagle on the ground, and creates two laughably implausible and potentially offensive, but important elements regarding the victim's earlier reactions to the pivotal event.

    Like this year's earlier "8MM," this film leaves a bad taste in the audience's mouth that's next to impossible to rinse out no matter the picture's glossy shine or attractive cast. Beyond, and perhaps in part because of that, the film's murder mystery element doesn't play as well as one might expect. With a small number of potential suspects, the "whodunit" element never comes off as compelling as it should. That's despite the obligatorily imposed time constraint that similarly feels impotent in ratcheting up the suspense factor.

    Since the protagonist briefly flirts with the deceased before she meets her demise, the story may have benefitted from having him become a suspect in the eyes of the military brass, particularly when his investigation begins to hit too close to home. Such an addition easily would have added extra layers of suspense and conflict, especially if he hadn't disclosed their brief relationship and/or if they had later been discovered together on a surveillance videotape.

    Instead, and notwithstanding Goldman's illustrious writing career, the filmmakers seem more interested in exploring and playing off the former relationship between John Travolta and Madeline Stowe's characters. While the film uses that romantic subplot to generate sparks, conflict and some "dead time" discussion filler, it comes off as too much of an obligatory and predictable element. As such, it feels more like what a computer-based screenwriting program might spit out versus what should seem more natural and/or believable.

    That said, the performances and the interaction between the characters are what keep the film afloat. While the dredged up relationship between Travolta ("A Civil Action") and Stowe ("12 Monkeys") does feel forced, the two play well off each other and both deliver fine performances, even if hers feels a bit shortchanged as far as screen time goes. Even better interactions result from Travolta's fun flirtations with newcomer Leslie Stefanson, who plays the soon-to-be deceased, although it's obvious such moments can't and don't last long.

    The true showstopper, however, is the exchange between Travolta and James Woods ("Ghosts of Mississippi") as the deceased's suspicious mentor. As they psychologically circle the other with mental jabs being thrown as easily as spears, their brief intellectual sparring match is easily the best audience pleasing moment the film has to offer. Entertaining to watch, it's the moment that finally lets the screenwriters strut their stuff.

    Supporting performances, when not betrayed by the need to confess all, are mostly decent across the board. While Clarence Williams III ("Life") is good as the stoic roadblock character, Timothy Hutton ("Beautiful Girls") doesn't have much screen time to flesh out his character, which is too bad considering how everything eventually turns out.

    However, the best performance -- as far as maintaining the mystery aura of the story -- comes from James Cromwell ("L.A. Confidential") as the general/father of the victim. Never letting on until late in the story the degree of his involvement in the crime, Cromwell perfectly plays the part, thus ensuring that the audience is never quite sure of his motives.

    Although the film probably sounds rather disturbing and depressing, director West and his writers have made sure to throw in some comic relief and action scenes that, for the most part, work in keeping the picture from being too bleak. It also has those big summer movie moments, such as when Stowe's character bluffs her way into a confession, that audiences love to watch.

    As such, the film will clearly have its share of fans as well as a good number of detractors. Simply put, that's due to it constantly alternating from being an enjoyable "event" movie to an unsavory picture occasionally filled with ludicrous and/or cliched moments.

    While we liked the performances and certain scenes, the whole rape issue, the resultant behavior and how all of it's presented, along with the more elemental cinematic miscues, prevents us from giving it much more than a moderate rating. Thus, "The General's Daughter" rates as a 5.5 out of 10.

    The following is a brief summary of the content found in this R-rated, murder mystery drama. A female officer is murdered and gang-raped and we see rather graphic and disturbing flashbacks to those events.

    Several other violent encounters also occur (including more violence toward women with a threat of rape), some people are killed (including a suicide), and the results are occasionally quite bloody. A few shots of a dead and increasingly discolored dead body are also present.

    Beyond the nudity seen in the rape scenes, postmortem nudity is also present with a nude woman lying bound and spread-eagle on the ground with some brief shots of full frontal nudity. A discovered video tape shows some sexual as well as S&M related activity between a woman and a man, and other S&M related materials are briefly seen. Some sexual talk also occurs and some nonsexual male nudity is briefly seen.

    Regarding the rape, murder and attempted cover up, bad attitudes rate as extreme. Profanity is also extreme with at least 17 "f" words being used along with other profanities and colorful phrases, while some smoking and drinking also occur.

    Due to the all of the above and the fact that many kids (mostly teens) may want to see this film, we strongly suggest that you take a closer look at the listed content should you be concerned about its appropriateness for them, yourself, or anyone else in your home.

  • Military brass have wine at a reception for General Campbell.
  • When Elisabeth mentions that Brenner's predicament (a flat tire) looks like the work of ten monkeys, he mentions that the other nine went out for a beer.
  • Brenner drinks a beer while watching TV.
  • Military types have drinks in a bar.
  • In a flashback, the General may have a drink in front of him.
  • After an outboard motor hits a man, the water around him quickly turns red.
  • We see a dead woman's bruised and discolored face. Later, we see the same thing and it's a bit more discolored the second time.
  • Brenner holds a somewhat blood-soaked cloth that he occasionally places on the back of his head (we don't see the head wound).
  • Sunhill's face is a little bloody after several men attack her.
  • A suspect that Brenner is violently interrogating has some blood running from his lip.
  • At a suspect's home, a cat paws at a window, leaving some bloody smears on it.
  • We see a bullet hole wound in a suicide victim's head as well as lots of blood having flown from it. We also see blood on the sofa and floor.
  • Blood runs from Elisabeth's mouth as she's being attacked. Later, we see her afterwards and her face is very bruised, swollen and bloody from the attack.
  • We see a man blown apart by an explosive.
  • Obviously those responsible for Elisabeth's death have both.
  • The same holds true for those who gang raped her years earlier, as well as her father who told her to forget it ever happened (for the better good of the Army).
  • An arms dealer tries to buy weapons from Brenner (who's working undercover) and later tries to kill him.
  • Sunhill admits that she was engaged in the past when she was also seeing Brenner.
  • An assailant describes rape as when a woman changes her mind after sex.
  • A male captain suggestively asks Sunhill, "What can I do for you, honey, or better yet, what can you do for me?"
  • Scenes listed under "Violence" may also be tense and/or suspenseful to some viewers.
  • An assailant carrying a silencer-equipped machine gun sneaks up on Brenner's riverboat home and then attacks him several times (see "Violence").
  • Brenner and Sunhill go down into a dark basement with his gun drawn (as suspenseful music plays) and Brenner is later attacked by a masked man with a shovel.
  • We see the point of view of someone watching Sunhill and she then catches glimpses of people running about at the crime scene at night. As she tries to get into her car, several men grab her and pin her to the ground. One of them then threateningly asks if she knows what it's like to be raped, but they flee before anything else happens.
  • Brenner and Sunhill go to a suspect's home, but he doesn't answer the door. They then go inside, guns drawn, and discover that the suspect has shot himself in the head.
  • A flashback to a nighttime rape scene is rather intense. See "Violence" for details.
  • A suspect threatens to blow up himself and several other people.
  • Machine Guns/Grenade & Rocket launchers: Seen in crates and wished to be bought by an arms dealer.
  • Handguns/Machine Gun/Knife/Spring-loaded land mine: Used to threaten or kill people. See "Violence" for details.
  • Shovel: Used by an assailant to attack Brenner.
  • Explosives: Used on a military course range and seen in a flashback of a nighttime training mission.
  • Rifles: Used to fire a 21-gun salute.
  • Phrase: "Sport f*cking" and "Banging" (for sex), "Piece of patch" (for female genitals), "Sh*tload," "Bitch," "Shut up," "Piss," "Screwed up" and "Balls."
  • Several men gang-rape a woman.
  • None.
  • An extreme amount of suspenseful music occurs during the film.
  • None.
  • At least 17 "f" words (1 used with "mother" and 5 used sexually as is the phrase "banging"), 8 "s" words, 2 slang terms for female genitals ("piece of patch"), 8 asses (2 used with "hole"), 7 damns, 7 hells, 5 S.O.B.'s, and 6 uses of "G-damn," 2 each of "Oh God," "Jesus," "God" and "Oh my God" and 1 use each of "Jesus Christ" and "For Christ's sakes" as exclamations.
  • From somewhat of a distance, we see Elisabeth's dead and nude body lying spread-eagle on the ground. As such, we see full frontal nudity (breasts and pubic hair). We then see various angles and brief glimpses of her body (some out of focus) that again show that full frontal nudity.
  • While looking through Elisabeth's home for clues, Sunhill looks in her medicine cabinet and comments that she must have kept her method of birth control somewhere else. Brenner then jokes that maybe she made her men wear condoms, that they're now back in fashion, and then states that now you have to boil people before you sleep with them.
  • Brenner and Sunhill find a hidden room in a basement complete with a bed, some condoms on a table, bondage paraphernalia (handcuffs, a belt with a dildo on it, etc...) as well as a camera and videotapes. As they watch one of those tapes, we hear sexual sounds as well as see a woman having sex on top of a man (with movement from somewhat of a distance). We also see some bondage/dominatrix related material (her in a mask, hitting the man with a crop) as well as most of the woman's bare butt in her thong-like bottom.
  • A tower sentry says that sometimes people "go out there to f*ck" (where Elisabeth was murdered).
  • Responding to Brenner's question about whether he and Elisabeth ever did anything together, Moore rhetorically asks, "Did you f*ck her?" Moore then responds to another question saying that he's divorced, between girlfriends and doesn't use hookers.
  • Moore then tells Brenner that Elisabeth was seeing the local deputy in a sexually related manner.
  • An assailant responds to Brenner's question by saying, "Do you mean, was I f*cking her?" He then says that he was and calls it "sport f*cking." This man then mentions that Elisabeth was "banging" many people at the base.
  • Brenner briefly mentions a "piece of patch" (slang for female genitals and/or sex).
  • As Elisabeth is raped, we see several views of her bare breasts along with rape-related movement, and a soldier who watches runs his hand up and down his rifle barrel as if masturbating.
  • We see some male soldiers' bare butts in a locker room.
  • It's implied that two men were in a homosexual relationship, but we never see any related activity.
  • A man walks up and sees Elisabeth lying naked and tied spread-eagle on the ground. We see a few brief glimpses of her bare breasts, but the man blocks most of our view of her. As he walks away, we then see an out of focus shot of her entire nude body.
  • An officer mentions that Elisabeth was "f*cking everybody."
  • Brenner smokes a cigar several times while playing an undercover part. General Campbell also smokes cigars a few times, while Moore, Fowler and Elisabeth (on a videotape) smoke cigarettes.
  • The general must deal with his daughter's murder.
  • Rape and having the victim's father tell her to act as if it never happened for the "better good" of the army.
  • The way in which the Army somewhat operates under its own rules and laws.
  • Whether a rape victim would recreate the rape to get even for the above.
  • Brenner, working undercover, drives a suspected arms dealer against an interior fence and then holds a knife to his back, acting the part by seeing if the man is undercover himself.
  • An assailant carrying a silencer-equipped machine gun sneaks up on Brenner's riverboat home. Brenner hears him, gets up on the roof and the assailant then fires at him until Brenner jumps into the water. The man then searches for Brenner who hides under a dock. The man then jumps in the water and shoots at Brenner who starts an outboard motor on a boat and swings it around trying to defend himself. Brenner then slams this man's head against the boat and then wraps a rope around his neck. The man then pulls out a knife, gets lose and then holds Brenner's head under the water, unaware of the outboard motor slowly inching toward him. He's eventually hit and killed by its blades.
  • We see that Elisabeth has been killed and presumably raped (although we later learn that the latter isn't true for this particular scene) and see her naked body tied spread-eagle on the ground.
  • A person comes out of the dark and hits Brenner with a shovel and then repeatedly tries to hit him again. The two briefly struggle and the assailant then flees.
  • We see the point of view of someone watching Sunhill and she then catches glimpses of people running about at the crime scene at night. As she tries to get into her car, several men grab her and pin her to the ground. One of them threateningly asks if she knows what it's like to be raped, but they flee before anything else happens.
  • Brenner throws Moore into a jail cell, pushes him up against a wall and grabs him by the face.
  • Brenner pins a suspect against a wall and then punches him. Sunhill then "accidentally" lets a hot beverage spill onto this suspect as they interrogate him. After the suspect makes a smart remark, Brenner knees him in the face and then bashes his head against a wall. Brenner then menacingly holds a gun to that man's head.
  • Brenner and Sunhill go to a suspect's home, but he doesn't answer the door. They then go inside, guns drawn, and discover that the suspect has shot himself in the head.
  • In a flashback, we see several camouflaged men attacking Elisabeth, striking her and then pinning her to the ground. They then take turns raping her (seen in a variety of shots -- some graphic, some not) and the narrator of the story says that they raped her all night.
  • We see a flashback to the assailant strangling Elisabeth to death.
  • A man purposefully trips a spring-loaded land mine that detonates, blowing his body apart and nearly hits others.

  • Reviewed May 26, 1999 / Posted June 18, 1999

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