15 NOVEMBER 1997, Page 59


GI Jane (15, selected cinemas)

Close shave

Mark Steyn

She's back and this time she's still angry. In the old days at MGM, they used to keep a calendar in the office with their female stars' times of the month marked up to remind them not to film on those days. With Demi Moore, they seem to be using a subtle modification of the system, waiting till her PMT's just hitting its peak and then whipping their cameras out and going round to film a couple of scenes. No other actress in history has been so pissed off for so long. After ill-advised forays into the classics (The Scarlet Letter) and comedy (Striptease), most observers assumed that, in the gruelling muddy slog of GI Jane, Demi had at last found a role where she, her clenched jaw, her permanent scowl and her bullet-proof chest would finally be at home. Instead, amazingly, it's even more hilarious than its predecessors.

The heroine of GI Jane is not, in fact, called Jane, but rather Jordan, presumably because she keeps getting passed over, such is the sexism of the US military. Nor is she a GI but instead a Navy SEAL trainee, the first woman ever to attempt to become a trained SEAL. But the reason it's called GI Jane — a straightforward gender-flip of

GI Joe — is because Demi is emblematic of the struggles women face in the armed services. Thus, the chauvinists in the top brass oppose her struggle to become a SEAL. Fortunately, though, she has the support of crusading gal Senator Lillian DeHaven (Anne Bancroft) who pro- nounces Jordan as 'top drawer, with silk stockings in it' — an odd line, considering it's the men who are supposed to be the sexists. The director, Ridley Scott, is not, you feel, entirely on top of the film's mes- sage. A television anchorperson says, 'Join- ing us now for the feminist perspective ...' — and immediately Scott jumps to a shot of Demi doing push-ups in her undies.

Much of GI Jane consists of Demi doing push-ups. But one can't complain about lack of variety. Not for Demi the formation up-and-down huffing and puffing of the male recruits. Here she is doing one-armed push-ups, there she is doing a one-armed, one-legged push-up, with the other leg sticking straight out at right angles, like an acrobatic air stewardess pointing out the emergency doors. Master Chief John Urgayle (Viggo Mortensen) is unimpressed by this, no doubt taking the view that, entertaining though it is, if you start admit- ting solo turns, then next thing you know Wayne Sleep and Bonnie Langford will be wanting to join. He is, needless to say, a bastard, despite looking like a 1970s disco singer. But, to his surprise, he finds himself developing a wary respect for her after she boots him in the crotch and yells, 'Suck my dick!' Many a true word spoken in jest.

Unfortunately, on her first day with the company, Demi finds her flowing raven locks getting in the way. However, in an inversion of the usual process, she likes the company so much, she buys an electric razor. As Chrissie Hynde wails approval on the soundtrack, her dark tresses cascade to the floor until only a thin stubble remains on the top of her leathery scalp. For some reason, this scene lasts longer than most real haircuts, and, by the end, the pile on the floor suggests Sean Connery was in an adjoining chair shaving his back. Besides, the main result of Demi shaving her head is that you spend the rest of the movie vague- ly wondering whether her eyebrows couldn't use a quick pluck.

The film's message, which it intends seri- ously, is that, if the brass would only treat women as soldiers and not as women, they could do anything the guys can. In the real world, quite the opposite is happening: in the new gender-neutral US military, train- ing is routinely 'gender-normed' to obscure the uncomfortable fact that women recruits lack the strength of men. A few years ago, studies showed that only 12 per cent of naval women could do the basic two-person stretcher-carry test; only 55 per cent of female Marines could throw a grenade beyond the burst radius. So they simply changed the tests. Demi Moore needn't have bothered shaving her head and cock- ing her leg. On the other hand, whatever my scepticism about female recruits in gen- eral, I'm all in favour of Demi being allowed into any corner of the military she fancies. President Clinton, for example, could threaten to drop her on Saddam. She is, after all, rapidly becoming America's most reliable bomb.