Mucking around the proving grounds and Big House residences of a Louisiana army base, The General’s Daughter is a curiously primeval detective flick, one that unfolds in a mosquito-infested, Miranda Rights –free zone where a ballsy MP named Paul Brenner (John Travolta) gets his man mostly by cracking jokes and terrorizing suspects. (“You’re in the army. You have no rights,” Warrant Officer Brenner repeatedly and cheerfully explains.)
Plotwise, Daughter is an “aha!”-intensive but thoroughly random mystery beginning when a general’s kid is found naked, spread-eagled, and strangled on her dad’s bomb range. Poking his head where it doesn’t belong and giving the secretive HQ stuffed shirts the what-for, Brenner discovers the general’s daughter was into what you’d call a heavy scene, her life and murder comprising a psychosexual scandal that extends to the camp’s highest levels, But Not the Way You Expect.… (That final twist is so random that there’s actually no way to spoil it, its non sequitur specifics only materializing onscreen when—aha!—they occur to Brenner.)
Improbably diverting, Daughter is a displaced cop-versus-rapist flick, making the main action Travolta’s winking, ends-justify-the-means antics; army investigator Madeleine Stowe comes along as side kick/ banter-buddy. Equally adept at roughing up informants and spotting queer officers (before assuring everyone that what passes between consenting adults is nobody’s business, of course), Brenner is more than just a cop; he’s the perfect post–Cold War peace keeper, able to feel the under dog’s pain even as he’s kicking his ass.
Screenwriters Christopher Bertolini and William Goldman do deploy the military-crime saga’s classic “truth vs. duty” conundrum in novel ways, but The General’s Daughter is still pretty absurd, not the least for the way Travolta seems to be channeling a bizarro Bill Clinton throughout, his character as charming, cynical, and roguish as the original, but with a Bronze Star to boot.