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Overall Rating

Awesome: 8.33%
Worth A Look: 23.33%
Pretty Bad: 8.33%
Total Crap: 5%

5 reviews, 30 user ratings

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Rules of Engagement
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by Scott Weinberg

"75% old stuff. 15% familiar acting stuff. 10% worth seeing."
3 stars

This one is basically a combination of A Few Good Men, Courage Under Fire and any movie at all starring either Samuel L. Jackson or Tommy Lee Jones. While it starts out with a bang and offers a few standout scenes, the overbearing familiarity of the proceedings is just too prevalent. That, and it's slow and simplistic.

I suppose some cliches and character traits are by now completely ingrained into Hollywood's subconscious. Plot devices and mysterious motivations and predictable surprises now pretty much make up about 75% of any Hollywood script. (Isn't it nice that the split-second we meet ANY character that represents the U.S. Government, we automatically know he's pure evil?) So if 75% of the average war drama/courtroom potboiler movie is just familiar junk, we have the remaining 25% with which we can hope to be entertained. Rules of Engagement has (barely) enough to recommend it, but it certainly helps if you don't see a lot of movies.

Colonel Childers (Jackson) orders his platoon of Marines to open fire on an unruly mob at the U.S. Embassy in Yemen. The question of whether his order was necessary (and legal) is the conflict we're presented with. Childers enlists his old Vietnam buddy Colonel Hayes (Jones) to aid him in his defense. Fortunately for all involved, Colonel Hayes is now a lawyer, so that works out well. Of course there is a videotape that could completely exonerate Childers, but unfortunately that evidence is in the hands of a mysteriously nasty National Security guy, and he orders it destroyed. Major Biggs (Guy Pearce) is the Government's attorney, and they are all out to nail Childers, all in the name of public relations.

Rules of Engagement is an annoyingly schizophrenic movie. Every time a small touch impresses you (like the unexpected morality of what's usually the 'villainous lawyer' role), it's usually followed by some familiar speech or cliche-ridden scene. (For example, do we ever need to see another scene in which two grown men (who are friends) beat the shit out of each other, only to end up giggling together?) While the early action sequences (in Vietnam and in Yemen) are exciting enough, they are followed by male bonding and courtroom stuff we've seen a dozen times before.

Do you really think Jackson will get his pious screaming speech out before the credits? Will Tommy Lee Jones get his big noble moment (or three)? And yet again, the U.S Government is the evil boogeyman on hand to play the easy villain. This movie also offers characters that have no real purpose in the story, although the movie's editor could probably explain that a little better. (Exactly what is the point of Anne Archer's character?)

Obviously, you will enjoy this movie directly in proportion to how much you like Sam Jackson and Tom Jones. (Not that Tom Jones.) For me, these are two actors who almost always play it safe when they choose their roles. Yes, they give good performances, but lately they're more like contractors than actors. They show up on the set, do their familiar thing, and then go home to the wives and kids. (Honestly, Jackson hasn't been impressive since Pulp Fiction and Tommy Lee Jones is always exactly the same! (I'd like to see Sam Jackson play a psychotic pervert and Tommy Lee Jones play a homosexual hot dog vendor.)

Often a movie can transcend its own cliches and still entertain, and Rules of Engagement does that with surprising regularity. Despite the familiarity, the two leads have some solid chemistry, and the script avoids being completely stupid just long enough for you to get into it. (It's just frustrating when you're watching a NEW movie and you're constantly being reminded of five others you've already seen.)

The forced moralizing on U.S. policies abroad seems pretty transparent here. If you want to offer some objectivity in a movie, try not to depict the foreigners as bloodthirsty and violent fools. Throughout the movie, we are told that the slaughter caused by Childers was a horrible, horrible thing. Unfortunately, we never really feel it for ourselves.

Taken as a matinee-style courtroom drama with some cool war scenes, Rules of Engagement is easier to swallow. But the half-handed attempts at political sabre-rattling almost drown the whole affair. All in all, it's a safe and very predictable movie, most likely more worthy of a video rental than a trip to the theater.

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originally posted: 04/14/00 03:08:24
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User Comments

11/26/09 Jeff Wilder Well shot (Friedkin's a master). But sidesteps questions and ending cops out, 3 stars
1/27/07 action movie fan powerful and thoughtful great all around as friedkin always is best film 0f 2000 5 stars
2/03/05 Dan Sweet shit man! 5 stars
4/15/04 J A Cool WAR Movie! 4 stars
3/25/04 john Friedkin's treatment of the subject matter is superb - so is the action- still a bit dull 4 stars
3/06/04 Jaco Visser Bad taste! If that's how American youth look, I'm glad I'm in Africa! 1 stars
5/09/03 mr. Pink Confusing and uninteresting. Even the actors seem to think this. 1 stars
3/25/03 Jack Sommersby First-rate action scenes can't compensate for the banal courtroom ones. 2 stars
6/06/02 I'm in (L) with a Jedi FUCK THIS MOVIE AND EVERYONE HOO WAS INVOLVED WITH IT!!! 1 stars
10/31/00 Monday Morning Not much new ground covered & some obvious plot holes, but very entertaining. 4 stars
9/08/00 Richard Wright Well-acted and thought provoking: one of the more intelligent movies this summer. 4 stars
8/31/00 Pascal Most importantly i found it poses tough, interesting questions to consider 4 stars
8/21/00 Belinda Another good courtroom drama 4 stars
5/27/00 Jaime N. Christley Very familiar stuff, and not a total success, but plenty of things make it worth seeing. 3 stars
5/16/00 Donna well worth seeing 4 stars
4/25/00 Bueller The loose ends in the story fail to support the tremendous talents of Jackson & Jones. 3 stars
4/22/00 PhilmPhreak More holes than the front of the embassy. It was so dumb, I felt insulted. 2 stars
4/21/00 Freyja Patriotic garbage. The most unsympathetic good guy since, well, ever. 2 stars
4/20/00 Maclay01 You can see the influence "Saving Private Ryan" has had on war movies. The war scenes feel 3 stars
4/17/00 Steve Good action scenes but serious plot holes and retread courtroom story... 3 stars
4/16/00 Captain Highcrime Do ALL military courtroom pictures follow the same tired formula? 3 stars
4/12/00 TimmyToday Boring. At least Samuel L. Jackson was in it. 3 stars
4/12/00 Xalt Something subtly wrong with this one. Not sure what but it bugs me. 3 stars
4/11/00 Matt McClanahan ( Did I see the same movie? I was somewhat disappointed in RoE. 2 stars
4/10/00 Tony D'Amoto I've seen this movie before 2 stars
4/10/00 Louis ... 3 stars
4/09/00 Gavin Moore A must see, the first 45 minutes are really intense 5 stars
4/08/00 Dirty Dave Capone really good movie, a must see if you've been in the CORPS 5 stars
3/19/00 Adam Really enjoyed even the work print of this.Hope nothing changes for the theatrical release. 4 stars
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Directed by
  William Friedkin

Written by
  James Webb

  Tommy Lee Jones
  Samuel L. Jackson
  Anne Archer
  Guy Pearce

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