Lurid, inane, bordering on the sick, Simon West’s picture attempts to tell the story of the murder of a military woman on a Georgia base. She is tied to the ground by tent pegs, spread-eagled, naked, and strangled. West lovingly lingers on the image. Worse, her physical entrapment is connected to a gang rape in similar circumstances years prior. West cruelly enjoys that image as well.
But forget The General’s Daughter as a pseudo snuff film. Even if you can get by that horror, you are left with four insurmountable handicaps.
First, the story is absurd. When a new clue is required to move it along, boom! – it drops out of nowhere. When the investigators (John Travolta and Madeline Stowe) must wrangle information from the daughter’s psychiatrist, they suggest a breach of his medical ethics that is so moronic you can’t believe it has been penned for the screen. If another clue is needed, Travolta just sticks a gun to the head of a character and there you have it -the beans are spilled. When Stowe confronts a suspect in the gang rape seven years earlier, she uses the most obvious technique in the book (the threat of DNA evidence on the daughter’s panties), he succumbs, and voila’ – case solved. Apart from the hackneyed interrogation technique (gasp! – they were just-bought panties, not old panties, and it was all a bluff!), the suspect confesses that he tried to stop the rape, but was unable to do so. Which begs the question: WHY WOULD A BLUFF AS TO HIS DNA ON PANTIES FAZE HIM IN THE SLIGHTEST IF HE WAS NOT ONE OF THE GANG RAPISTS?
Second, the acting is abysmal. Travolta is particularly awful, a condescending bore overly taken with himself. Stowe is useless, and her puffy, mis-shapen face, distorted by collagen and who knows what else, is upsetting, especially when one remembers her in The Last of the Mohicans. With the exception of an interesting weird turn as the daughter’s mentor by James Woods, the rest of the characters are forgettably stock.
Third, the film unintentionally creates a sub-theme of backlash against women in the military. Ostensibly, the film presents women in the military as a good thing, and West clumsily ties the daughter’s gang rape and murder years later to this new phenomenon. Yet, when Travolta and Stowe question a female guard who was on post the night the daughter was murdered, the female solider is a) incompetent; b) blubbering like a brook; and then c) blase’, as she explains to the investigators that people on base often came to the scene of the crime all the time “to fu**.” Add the truly bizarre behavior of the daughter (she essentially sleeps with everyone under her general father’s command), the depiction of military men as almost crazed in their dislike of women in their ranks, the creepy mutual attraction of Woods and the daughter (he is her superior in the chain of command), the fact that Stowe and the daughter – both military women – are made to look sexually enticing (even sporting cherry red lipstick), and an early sexual foxtrot between Travolta and the daughter, and you get the feeling that maybe this film is anti-women in the military. Either that, or West is doing some recruiting. Join Up! The Chicks are Hot!
Finally, if you don’t know who the murderer is in the first 20 minutes, you were probably shocked that the boat sank in Titanic.