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Sgt. Rockette

Think Meryl Streep handled the raging white water and the redneck villains pretty well in The River Wild? Come now. That was child's play. Still like the way La Femme Nikita blew those four-star Euro-creeps away in the middle of their pate de foie gras? Forget about it--namby-pamby, art-movie philosophizing. Believe Geena Davis's transformation from amnesia-stricken housewife into lethal secret agent in The Long Kiss Goodnight was the essence of kick-ass feminism? Hey, you've got a thing or two to learn.

In G.I. Jane, the first-ever female Navy SEAL trainee, Demi Moore, shaves her head to become one of the boys, dodges machine-gun bullets and eats out of a garbage can right alongside them, then develops a pair of biceps that Evander Holyfield--not to mention John Elway--would kill for. Can the woman swim? You bet. She's an ex-Olympian.

Are things tough? Well, Jordan's skeptical boyfriend points out that her fellow SEALs will "want to eat corn flakes out of your skull." He's right. But before our very eyes, Moore's Lieutenant Jordan O'Neil mutates into a warrior queen who can do more pushups than Rocky and shoot the eyelids off a rat at 500 yards. She's completely committed to her unit and refuses gender-based concessions. Talk about recruiting value! One hour into G.I. Jane, dozens of stressed-out, horny boys are sharing the same barracks with . . . Demi Moore. Beside the point, the movie tells us. That's probably not what the Navy thinks.

In any event, Jordan survives the SEALs' 60 percent washout rate and proves wrong the hordes who want to see her test case fail--including, of course, all the corrupt, soft-as-marshmallow politicians and the insatiable media vultures.

There's more. When the testosterone war really heats up in a prisoner-of-war simulation, Demi beats the living crap out of her hard-as-nails male drill instructor, wins her mates over and ices the cake by (go, girl!) wiping out an entire platoon of swarthy Libyan commandos who threaten the American way of life.

Tennnn-hut! When Lieutenant O'Neil strides into the room, you'd better snap to--unless you wanna get whacked in the chops with a rifle butt or a well-chosen rejoinder. For those who haven't noticed, Hollywood's tireless machine is not just cranking up mindless male action fantasy these days, it's also going in big for machisma--for women who boldly rob banks, who steal the loot from their scummy Mafia boyfriends, who wreck the joint with as much joyous abandon as do Schwarzenegger or Stallone. Here's cathartic McFeminism, served up in big, raw scoops.

The movie is careful to portray Jordan O'Neil as thoroughly heterosexual (there's that bathtub scene with the boyfriend) and whip-smart (there's that intelligence room scene where she out-thinks the admirals), but once she's hardened by the toughest boot camp known to man or woman, she gets her own peculiar quote du movie, every bit the equal of "Go ahead, make my day" or "I'll be back." Slugging it out tooth-and-nail with Viggo Mortensen's ruthless Navy master chief, one of the most alluring actresses of the day suddenly yells: "Suck my dick!"

This is not the kind of thing Hester Prynne said to her tormentors, and it's probably not poetry for the ages. But it must do as an all-purpose, late-summer rallying cry for the good lieutenant's beleaguered fellow trainees--and for civilian moviegoers still inflamed by the injustice of the Kelly Flynn affair, the Tailhook scandal or admission standards at the Citadel. As for the current state of screenwriting, that's another matter.

The designers behind G.I. Jane's canny mixture of political correctness and violent aggression know well that the days of Operation Petticoat's lame-brained sexism and Private Benjamin's spoiled-girl-in-the-military jokes have passed. What the world needs now is more ass-kicking.

The principals here include the hyper-slick action director Ridley Scott, who's made 2,000 TV commercials as well as Alien and Blade Runner, and an author of political thrillers named Danielle Alexandra, who's been dubbed "the female Tom Clancy." The moniker is apt: Like Clancy's, Alexandra's books are heavy on hardware facts and light on prose, and they reveal a deep affection for the defense industry. Like Clancy, Alexandra is a stone Pentagon groupie.

Unlike Clancy, though, she's a feminist at once primal and commercially aware. That means she needn't bother to consider the several implications--political, sexual and psychological--in having her heroine bellow a fundamental, sure-to-be-quoted line like: "Suck my dick!" And it may explain how Jordan O'Neil's unit is transported from its training base in swampy Florida into full-scale battle against the dark forces of Mu'ammar Qaddafi--despite the fact that no one has even graduated.

Oh, well. When you're this busy advancing your gender and saving democracy, there's no time for dramatic reality.

There is, however, time to saddle Anne Bancroft with the role of a conniving senator (the actress clearly lifted a few style moves from ex-Texas governor Ann Richards) who uses the heroine for her own political purposes and to burden Scott Wilson (forever to be known as the tall killer from In Cold Blood) with the part of a commanding officer who wants no part of the Navy's plan to turn his base into a test tube. Moore's fellow recruits (David Vadim, Morris Chestnut, Boyd Kestner et al.) are another mixed military bag in terms of ethnicity and attitudes. A few want to bed Jordan; most of them want to kill her. And one sensitive black guy understands what an outsider she is. In the end, everyone's buddies--just as if John Wayne had been leading the charge.

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