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Senator Lillian De Haven of Texas (Anne Bancroft) publicly criticizes the United States Navy for its failure to integrate both male and female recruits to all its services. She strikes a deal, arranging for a series of test cases. A single woman will join each branch currently fully-staffed by males service and try to perform as well as her male colleagues. The first test case has Lieutenant Jordan O' Neil (Moore) joining the U.S. Navy Combined Reconnaissance Team.
The Lieutenant has to contend with the brutal training regime of Command Master Chief John James Urgayle (Mortensen), trumped up charges of being a lesbian (violating the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy), attempts to relegate her to desk jobs, Senator De Haven' double-cross of her protégé. Her graduation test involves an actual operation in the Libyan Desert.
The film performed rather disappointingly in the box office. It earned $48,169,156 in the United States market, the 39th most successful film of its year. But this was still below its overblown budget. Critics felt a major problem was its failure to regard the subject matter sincerely. In a film supposed to "explore the implications of females in the US Military", there is actually very little exploration of the matter. It mainly serves as an excuse for Moore's character to defy gender roles and prove being a badass. Not unlike any other action film. There isn't even mention of other women following in her footsteps or anyone else actually undergoing similar tests in another branch (however, see Executive Meddling on the Trivia page). Others pointed there are exactly three characters with any depth to them O' Neil, Urgayle and De Haven. Anyone else is scenery. It remains an entertaining action film, but not a deep one.
The film features examples of:
- All Abusers Are Male: Averted but mentioned. Jordan has a black eye (among other injuries) after her POW training. While at a bar in the bathroom, a fellow female bar patron sees it and says "Not that it's any of my business, but I'd say dump the bastard."
- Artistic License Basic Training / Artistic License Statistics: In an attempt to see if women can serve in combat duty, the DoD lets one woman try SEAL training. The course, as stated in the movie, has a 60% failure rate, meaning you'd need a sample size of at least three to even pretend you've got a realistic bearing.
- Bald of Awesome: Jordan's shaved head is spotlighted as essential to her training.
- Bald Women: Jordan.
- Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Averted. Jordan gets beaten all to hell during SERE training and has large grazes and scabs on her face for several scenes following.
- Captain Smooth and Sergeant Rough: Command Master Chief John James Urgayle is Captain Smooth (only once does he ever bark at a trainee), while his two subordinate instructors jointly fill the Sergeant Rough position.
- Chekhov's Skill: The fact that Jordan used to be a Navy officer coordinating operations.
- Corrupt Politician: Senator DeHaven
- Cowboy Bebop at His Computer: Often in reviews, its stated that Jordan is attempting to join the Navy SEALs. However, in the flim, shes trying to join a fictional Navy special operations team. Although, this is understandable, since the Combined Reconnaissance Team is all too similar to the SEALs.
- This one's a bit complicated, but it still holds true. The CRT is fictional, but many in the movie's universe refer to it as a SEAL Team, when in fact it is a combined arms spec ops unit that is made up mostly of SEALs. It's more an expy of the NSW Developement Group(known as Team 6) than anything.
- The Determinator: Jordan
- Do Not Do This Cool Thing: The film tries to make the argument that militaries should be completely gender integrated, including allowing women into spec ops. While it doesn't glorify sexism, yet it manages to make completely the opposite point during what is arguably the film's most powerful scene; the POW training scene. Lt. O'Neil is being brutally beaten up by Master Chief Urgayle in front of the other trainees to get information from them and even starts to cut off her pants as if he's about to rape her. O'Neil bravely refuses to break and demands that her comrades do not either. The problem? During this scene, the other trainees are clearly about to crack and start giving out information, and look at and make comments to Urgayle like he's a real prick, yet, as he points out, he is saving their lives. This is just an exercise, so there are great limits as to what Urgayle is allowed to do. If this scenario was real, a female spec ops troop would be used in the same way, and there would be no limits as to what her captors would be allowed to do, and they would probably not hesitate to do even more brutal things to her, including raping her, most likely causing the male troops to crack.
- The point is that this is what equality means - if you want women to be equals, you need to take them off the pedestal. While detractors might argue that this shows that integration shouldn't be attempted, an equally valid argument is that the men involved need to be further trained to not react in such a manner.
- Double Standard: Jordan receives preferential treatment in her training at first such as being allowed an additional thirty seconds to finish a training course and being given an aid step for an obstacle, until she goes to her CO and points out that this is only making her male comrades resent her and defeats the purpose of the argument that women are equal, and demands it stop.
- When Lt. Blondell, Jordan's physician, asks her why she's going through the training, Jordan asks if Blondell asks the men the same thing. Subverted, Blondell replies that she does ask the men the same question.
- During the POW training the interrogation instructor doesn't want to harm Jordan, but Urgayle, understanding the necessity, has no such reservations and proceeds to beat her mercilessly, and even asks her while he has a headlock on her if he thinks they should treat the women differently to which Jordan screams, "Never!"
- Drill Sergeant Nasty: Command Master Chief John James "Jack" Urgayle is a more sedate, erudite version, but no less nasty.
- The Dulcinea Effect: Not stated outright but the Real Life equivalent of women in the military is used by Urgayle when he brutally beats Jordan in front of the male trainees during POW training in order to get information from them, and it proves more effective than interrogating the male trainees themselves, as they are clearly about to crack.
- Forbidden Fruit: Jordan tells her boyfriend that the more she is tried to be forced out of the program, the more she wants to complete it.
- Forced to Watch: As part of their POW training, Urgayle brutally beats and attempts to rape Jordan in front on the male trainees in order to get them to give up information.
- Freud Was Right / The Reason You Suck Speech: "But what I must resent is the scent of your perfume, however subtle it may be, competin' against the aroma of my fine three dollar and fifty nine cent cigar; which I will put out this instant if the phallic nature of it happens to offend your GODDAMN FRAGILE SENSIBILITIES!
- Gender Is No Object: The film's aesop is that militaries should be this way.
- History Marches On: A key part of the film involves Jordan facing trumped up charges that she is a lesbian, violating the military's Don't Ask Don't Tell policy which bars openly homosexual people from serving, but has since been repealed.
- Important Haircut: Jordan shaves her head during her special operations training.
- Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: Used on the trainees during their POW training, most notably by Urgayle on Jordan.
- Jackie Robinson Story: Pretty much the entire plot.
- Men Are the Expendable Gender: Jordan discusses this with Senator DeHaven after DeHaven reveals she had never intended for Jordan to succeed in the program, and it was all just a ruse to score political points.
DeHaven: The truth is, the choice isn't yours, and it isn't mine. American families are just not prepared to have their daughters and young mothers in harm's way.
Jordan: You don't know that.
DeHaven: Yes, I do. Roper, Paris, Gallup, all the polls, they all come back the same way.
Jordan: What are you saying? That a woman's life is more valuable than a man's? That a woman's death is more hurtful than a man's?
DeHaven: No politician can afford to let women come home in body bags, especially me.
- No Periods, Period: Averted. When Jordan moves into the male barracks, Cortez is disgusted when he finds a box of tampons.
- Punctuated for Emphasis: "SUCK... MY... DICK!" Made into a Crowning Moment of Awesome by the fact that a shorn-haired and yet STILL uber-beddable Demi Moore (yes, a woman) is shouting it -- and into the face of a Badass, Super Soldier of a NAVY SEAL who's acting as The Obi-Wan and had spent the last few minutes kicking the crap out of her.
- Rape as Drama/Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: During the POW training, when Urgayle is brutally beating Jordan in front of the male trainees, he starts to cut off her pants as if he's about to rape her, simulating what would most likely happen if they were captured for real.
- Sensitivity Training: Before the title character starts SEAL training, all of the instructors have to receive sensitivity training so they know not to sexually harass her.
- Shower Scene: Jordan showers while Urgayle talks to her.
- Star-Derailing Role: This was the second under-performing film by Moore, following Striptease. Both helped undermine her reputation.
- The Squadette: Jordan.
- Stuff Blowing Up: When Lt. Blondell, Jordan's physician, asks her why she's going through the training.
Jordan Do you ask the men the same question?
Blondell As a matter of fact, yes, I do ask them.
Jordan And what do they say?
Blondell Cause I get to blow shit up.
Jordan Well, there you go.
- This Is for Emphasis, Bitch: When Urgayle yells at a male trainee.
Urgayle: You. Pencil down, put your feet together, and SIT UP STRAIGHT!
- Things Get Real
- Torture Always Works: Not stated outright, but Urgayle mentions how waterboarding is a very effective interrogation technique while Jordan is having it done on her for a training exercise.
- Training From Hell: Jordan experiences Navy SEAL training, which is generally considered among the toughest, if not the toughest, training in the US military, including actual tortures like waterboarding (so they can learn to withstand torture if they fall into enemy hands).
- Would Hit a Girl / Wouldn't Hit a Girl: During the POW training the interrogation instructor doesn't want to harm Jordan, but Urgayle, understanding the necessity, has no such reservations and proceeds to beat her mercilessly.