Rebecca Ascher-Walsh
July 27, 1999 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Why are this summer’s leading ladies such a bunch of losers?

First, a disclaimer: I hate anything on screen that?s even remotely girlie. Debra Winger?s death scene in ”Terms of Endearment” makes me want to puke, and I?d have to endure months of forced bed rest before I flipped to the Lifetime channel. My idea of a good time involves ”Terminator,” ”Nightmare on Elm Street,” and anything with Sylvester Stallone or Jean Claude Van Damme. If I need to cry, I watch ”Dr. No” and realize Sean Connery will never play James Bond again.

So if it seems to me that this summer?s movies are not exactly showcasing women at their finest, the situation must be really stinky. After all, this season?s most well-rounded, interesting female character might well be Elizabeth Hurley?s five minute show in ”Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.” Unfortunately, she turns out to be a robot, and her husband kills her. Then there?s the lovely acting opportunity offered to the title character in ”The General?s Daughter.” While we learn that the ill-fated woman is a near-genius, her range of emotional scenes — being raped, re-creating a rape, begging her father to give her a little attention, for God?s sake, and ultimately, playing dead — are performed butt-naked and spread-eagled. (And the MPAA has a problem with verbal vulgarity?) It?s an odd experience, to say the least, to sit with an audience at a film starring John Travolta and watch a woman be killed, it?s explained, because she?s slept with everyone in the barracks except the murderer. This would be mainstream entertainment?

But even lighter fare isn?t making me proud of my gender. In ”Runaway Bride,” Julia Roberts plays a woman who has ditched four men at the altar without a moment of guilt. Because she smiles like Julia Roberts and charms like Julia Roberts (remember, this is the woman who made us forget she was a hooker in ”Pretty Woman”), her lack of conscience doesn?t necessarily reflect badly on her. Nor does it seem to be a bad reflection on Richard Gere?s character that he humiliates her in print, calls her a ”man eater,” and gets his kicks treating her like a ninny. The happy ending, of course, has them falling in love with each other, while the audience roots for the cute-as-a-button coupling of a misogynist and woman who, no doubt after a few years of much-needed therapy, would tell the guy to go take a hike.

So who is the most realistic woman on screen these days? My vote goes for a gal who is both headstrong and funny, sensitive but tough as nails: Miss Piggy in ”Muppets From Space.” Sure, she?s made of foam, and her prince is still a frog, but she can throw a karate chop that would make even Jean Claude proud.

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