**/**** Image A+ Sound A- Extras B+
starring John Travolta, Madeleine Stowe, James Cromwell, James Woods
screenplay by Christopher Bertolini and William Goldman, based on the novel by Nelson DeMille
directed by Simon West
by Bill Chambers The General's Daughter is prettified trash, a sulphur-coloured pulp movie of dubious ambitions. Undeniably effective in fits and starts, this adaptation of Nelson DeMille's popular novel dies when it succumbs to the lurid urges of a too-visceral director. The nude body of Captain Elisabeth Campbell (Leslie Stefanson) has been discovered strangled to death on an army base in Georgia. Elisabeth's father, vice-presidential hopeful General Joseph Campbell (!) (James Cromwell), summons beefy army cop Paul Brennan (John Travolta), an acquaintance of the deceased, to close the case before the FBI moves in--and before the media gets wind of the situation. Working with ex-girlfriend Sarah "Sun" Sunhill (Madeleine Stowe), Paul quickly uncovers the secrets of the late captain's double-life as a dominatrix.
Unfortunately, helmer Simon West overplays his hand by positioning three powerhouse scenes of Paul interrogating Moore--who exits shortly thereafter--almost next to each other instead of spreading them out. Rarely is a motion picture upstaged by its middle. As if in an effort to compensate for Woods's abrupt departure from the story, West ups the voltage of the cutting and the visuals, which become gratuitous when the story takes an exploitive turn for the worse.
The filmmakers credibly depict the military's institutionalized misogyny by having Paul deliver a selection of bath products to Elisabeth's office in gratitude for changing his tire, without regard for her superiority of rank and under the assumption that such a gift, which comes loaded with sexual subtext, is appropriate because women enjoy such things. Where West and company fail miserably--no, offensively--is in their depiction of rape as an act of violence that turns its victims into kinky sex addicts. Late in the movie, a slimy character says that "rape is when a woman changes her mind afterward," a line that exists to be booed, yet any refutation of this ideology is never presented with as much conviction. The General's Daughter doesn't attempt to debunk rape by any means, but Elisabeth's emotional scars, inferred in flashbacks, don't run deep enough.
In other words, the proverbial pot boils over. Tired summer blockbuster expectations are additionally responsible for why The General's Daughter is so unsatisfying overall. Witness the hackneyed minefield climax (the poorest excuse for a boffo explosion in recent memory), or the will-they-or-won't-they antics of moonlighters Paul and Sun, or the police chief who ducks in and out of the plot to harrass our hero... (At least Paul bites back.) Mostly the film suffers because West is incapable of juggling the political and the commercial. Like all graduates of the Jerry Bruckheimer school of aesthetics (West directed Con Air for the mini-mogul), the images are often in denial of the content, like lipstick on a pig. Given the subject matter, the show-don't-tell approach lends The General's Daughter an especially sour aftertaste, despite good work by the leads and outstanding technical support from cinematographer Peter Menzies and composer Carter Burwell.
Said camerawork and music are beautifully represented on Paramount's stunning DVD version of The General's Daughter, the studio's first full-blown special edition on a digital video format. The transfer quality is far better than the movie itself, which is presented in 16x9-enhanced, 2.35:1 widescreen. The high-contrast print translates well to home video--image clarity and shadow detail are overwhelming. Colours are bright and stable. This is the best-looking disc I've seen from The Mountain yet, and I've audited the majority of their DVD catalogue.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is subtle but good, with almost constant bayou atmosphere in the rear channels. Helicopter scenes are a blast, with chopper blades whirring in every direction. The bass channel could use more range--it's either intensely low or slightly timid. Still, the subwoofer occasionally rattles the light fixtures. Dialogue is clean and loud, as is the playful, (southern) gothic score.
Bonus materials include: two trailers (full-frame and 2.0 surround, unusual for Paramount); a 20-minute making-of that plays like a protracted advertisement; four deleted scenes--each 16x9-enhanced, letterboxed at 2.35:1, and closed-captioned to boot(!)--introduced by West, one of which is an alternative ending that's much stronger than the confusing sequence that currently plays out over the closing credits while paying off a repeatedly foreshadowed set-up; and finally, a scripted-sounding commentary by West. While it's missing a sense of spontaneity, there are (refreshingly) no silent stretches on West's track, and he proves his competence as a director--many of his noted script changes sound beneficial to the finished product. Originally published: December 28, 1999.
116 minutes; R; 2.35:1 (16x9-enhanced); English DD 5.1, English Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround; CC; English subtitles; DVD-9; Region 1; Paramount