The Bye Bye Man
The Bye Bye Man is the kind of film that is so boring and bereft of anything of possible interest that it becomes infuriating.
Elisabeth once told me she was conducting a field investigation in psychological warfare, and the enemy was Daddy.
So speaks one of the friends of the late Capt. Elisabeth Campbell, whose bizarre death is the centerpiece of "The General's Daughter." Her Army job is to teach "psychological operations"--or, as she explains to a guy whose tire she helps to change, to mess with people's minds. Nobody's mind has been messed with more than her own.
The friendly guy is Warrant Officer Paul Brenner, played by John Travolta--first as a slow-talking redneck, and then, after he drops the undercover masquerade, as an aggressive Army cop. He meets Elisabeth Campbell (Leslie Stefanson) just that once, before her naked corpse is found staked spread-eagled to the ground, having been strangled. And if you blinked at that description of her dead body, well, so did I. The circumstances of the victim's death are so bizarre and unlikely that they derail most of the scenes they involve. "The General's Daughter" is a well-made thriller with a lot of good acting, but the death of Elisabeth Campbell is so unnecessarily graphic and gruesome that by the end I felt sort of unclean. If this had been a documentary, or even a fiction film with serious intentions, I would have accepted it. But does entertainment have to go this far just to shake us up? The movie is based on a page-turner by Nelson DeMille, adapted for the screen by William Goldman and Christopher Bertolini, who along the way provide a dialogue scene for Travolta and James Woods that's sharp-edged and crisply delivered; one-on-one, they fence with words and the theater grows as quiet as if it were a sex scene. Simon West, the director, creates a gloomy Southern Gothic atmosphere for his film, which is set at an urban warfare center, "an Army base that includes mock-ups of civilian architecture, and an antebellum mansion for the general to occupy." The general (James Cromwell) seems to have lived there quite some time, judging by the furnishings, which make the interiors look like pages from Architectural Digest. Gen. Campbell occupies rooms filled with wood, leather, brass, crystal, weapons and flags, and is doted on by his loyal aide-de-camp, Col. Fowler (Clarence Williams III). Campbell is a war hero now considered vice presidential timber, although of course the messy murder of his daughter may put an end to that, especially if he had anything to do with it.
He is not the only suspect. With the efficiency of all good police procedurals, every single main character is a suspect, except for those deployed for local color and comic effect (and you can never be sure about them). Travolta's warrant officer is assigned to the case, and partnered with another Army cop, Sarah Sunhill (Madeleine Stowe); they had an affair once in Brussels, which gives them something to talk about--just as well, since the primary function of her character is to wait around in hopes that the screenplay will hurl her into a dangerous and threatening situation.