"Private Benjamin," a peculiarly unappealing throwback to the tradition of service comedies like "Buck Privates," "Caught in the Draft," "See here, Private Hargrove," et al., was evidently tailored for Goldie Hawn. In addition to playing the title role -- a poor little rich girl whose character is supposedly enriched by a stretch in the Army -- Hawn is listed as the executive producer. She and the writers -- Nancy Meyers, Charles Shyer and Harvey Miller -- are partners in the production company that made the picture for Warner Bros.
As Hawn's first starring vehicle conceived and executed under her own authority, "Private Benjamin" invites some alarming speculation about the stellar self-image she now considers attractive or desirable. "Private Benjamin" seems coarse, sluggish and interminable as a comedy scenario, but the profoundly depressing aspect of it is that Goldie Hawn appears to be receding as a comedienne and emerging as a boss lady. It recalls the imperiors, unwelcome metamorphosis of Barbra Streisand in "A Star Is Born." Ironically, this touch of Streisand's show-biz hauteur is the only thing remotely Jewish about the character Hawn presumes to impersonate, although a Very Big and Vulgar Deal is made of the fact that Judy Benjamin is supposed to be the most conventional, acquisitive and susceptible of Jewish heroines, a Jewish American Patsy-Princess.
There's no particular reason why the old service comedies couldn't be updated effectively for a comedienne. At one time, almost every comedian in Hollywood did an obligatory number on basic training or boot camp or both.The performances of some of the supporting actresses -- Eileen Brennan as a company commander and Toni Kalem and P.J. Soles as enlistees -- indicate that the old premise could be amusingly feminized. At a glance, the most serious obstacle facing Goldie Hawn in the role of a buck private would appear to be her age -- she's a bit too old to look ideal as a raw recruit. Little could one guess that her age would eventually seem the least of several obstacles to a willing suspension of disbelief and a good time.
The heroine is provoked into the service by an absurd tragedy: Her bridegroom, a lawyer played by Albert Brooks, dies of a heart attack on their wedding night. It's Judy Benjamin's second marital disaster -- we're told that a first marriage to a tennis pro ended in early divorce.
At Fort Biloxi, Judy seems to combine the functions of the company simp and the company snob without persuasively transcending either. Although the service experience is supposed to instill her with the sense of pride and purpose she lacked, it's difficult to believe that she would find herself in such a leveling environment. For one thing, Hawn never seems to fit in: she always looks as if she's walking around the movie lot, checking to see that no one's loafing on the set.
The aimless screenplay can't even resolve her problems within a service framework. It goes off on tangents that eventually land her in Paris for a misbegotten engagement with a French gynecologist played by Armand Asante. One gathers that independence is guaranteed if she can resist a foreign doctor.
Although Judy's character is supposed to improve over the course of the film, the Goldie Hawn we see at the end is less likeable than the one at the beginning. Not that her performance is ever a treasure: mopey and whiny, she seems too preoccupied to be merely funny or ingratiating.