The General’s Daughter

Awkward, now why would you think it would be awkward?

We’ve basically all given up on Travolta, haven’t we? I imagine it was around this time that it happened. When his jaw started doing all the acting. It’s like he thinks he’s a ventriloquist or something.  Well, he’s still doing it in 1999 with The General’s Daughter.

Paul Brenner (Travolta) is a military policeman with the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). He’s doing this one thing and then has to do this other thing. You see, Capt. Campbell (Leslie Stefanson) has been murdered and she’s the daughter of a latter-day Eisenhower (James Cromwell)—that is a military man with political aspirations. He’s joined by Sarah Sunhill (Madeleine Stowe) with whom Brenner shares a past. (Eye roll.)

Basically, Brenner and Sunhill go about unearthing the victim’s tragic black tale without actually amassing much in the way of evidence but often physically abusing their suspects and drawing their weapons.

Man, this thing is all over the place. We start out with a passable-to-good premise and, one propeller later, everything starts to fall apart. Seeing William Goldman’s name attached to this is really disappointing. It’s not that the story is poorly constructed, though it is, because that’s probably the work of the other writer, Christopher Bertolini.  But Goldman was probably called into iron out the severe wrinkles, but still there are some serious cheddar moments in both story and (especially) dialogue. It was like “You can’t handle the truth!” but without the ramp-up.

Again, that story is just silliness. Not the premise or the Greek letter parts of the outline, but the scene-by-scene. These characters are setting rules and then breaking them. It’s almost like the writers were consciously saying “Well we need to get this fact out there, but we can’t make it too easy. I’ve got it, let’s make the character somebody who can’t give out that information for some reason, like a lawyer or something.”

Then the other guy says, “Yeah, but that means that this character knew what happened all along. So we’re basically holding an emotionally crucial but factually misleading piece out until the very end. Won’t that be either confusing or stupid for our audience?” Person A replies, “Yeah, but if we do it fast enough, they won’t have time to question it.” Then Person B says, “Okay sure, but then someone’s going to buy this thing on DVD like a schmuck and review it.” To which Person A says, “What’s a DVD?”

I’ve never liked Madeline Stowe. I can’t really complain too much about her in this movie because she doesn’t really have the time or material to annoy me. A little banter, a little empty victimhood, and she’s done. No, it’s Travolta who steals the show and then runs it into a pylon. But hey, Timothy Hutton helped. Really it’s only James Cromwell who does anything near a good job.

That’s not fair, James Woods does come as near as you can without actually doing a good job. Maybe it’s the fact that he’s so obviously playing camp and nobody cluing in that I find objectionable. No, it’s a dead loss. The story is just too poorly constructed and the dialogue as weak as Basic (2003)—incidentally another Travolta movie with rather frightening similarities to this movie but with a much better story but with equally pathetic acting and dialogue.

This director took a few too many pages out of the Michael Bay/Jerry Bruckheimer Book of Movies. Low angles, warm colors, gratuitous poses, and combinations of all three. It was bad. It was bad because it was so out of step with the genre. It’s that and the fact that the Michael Bay/Jerry Bruckheimer stuff has always been worthy only of our “guilty pleasures.”

There’s a thought I have, sometimes, when I’m watching a movie. I’ll think to myself, “What if I just happened into the theater at this moment.” I look up at the screen and I don’t see a movie in progress, but a moment out of context.

Certain moments will always look comically manufactured, like an extreme close-up, a low angle on a pose, or an explosion. I think it’s a matter of positioning. When you stand there, under the screen, you look up and you’re almost unable to empathize with the characters. That’s what makes the pleasure a guilty one, I imagine. We know this is ludicrous, but the moment before we were enjoying ourselves. If that moment never happened, it’d probably be an innocent pleasure.

About Prof. Ratigan

A semi-lawyer and amateur enthusiast.
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