"Rules of Engagement"
Directed by William Friedkin.
Written by Stephen Gaghan.
Starring Tommy Lee Jones, Samuel L. Jackson and Guy Pearce.
Release Year: 2000
Review Date: 4/10/00
Back to the movieplexes once again, I went
with Julie "Kickass" Simon to check out "Rules of Engagement" at the
lovely stadium-seated Regal Cinema, located in the
just-the-opposite-of-lovely Ballston Mall. I figured, hey, I've got
some free movie passes from Beth "Skillz" Gilliam, I've got a
Sunday, blustery afternoon that just screams "movie day", and I've
got Samuel l. Jackson and Tommy Lee Jones, two of my favorite
actors. Seemed like a no-brainer to me.
And, the first hour of "Rules of Engagement"
was just that: all good. In 1968, in the harsh jungles of Vietnam,
two platoon commanders, Terry Childers (Jackson) and Hays Hodges
(Jones) get attacked by a group of Vietnamese soldiers. Childers
saves Hodges' life in the conflict, and by fast forwarding the
action 28 years into the future, we see that Childers and Hodges are
best friends and career marines. Hodges, a lawyer for the military,
is on the eve of his retirement, and Childers, still a soldier, is
being sent to Yemen to watch over a US ambassador (Ben
Kingsley--Gandhi!) that may or may not need to be evacuated from a
hostile situation just outside of the American embassy there. The
situation in Yemen goes horribly wrong, and by the time Childers
lands back in the states, he is being charged with 83 counts of
murder and breach of peace for his actions in Yemen. Needing a
lawyer, he calls on his old friend Hodges to help him out.
This first hour has it all: gripping battle
scenes that are a little tense, given that you know that this is
just a movie; the scenes in Yemen are absolutely beautiful, and it
seems like the weather the day of shooting was just perfect, as
Jackson presides over his troops and the blue skies of San'a, Yemen;
great performances from Jones, Jackson, Anne Archer (where have you
been?), Kingsley, and ageless wonder Blair Underwood, here playing a
staff sergeant under Childers' command. Oh, and the use, by
Jackson, of his patented "mother fucker" delivery, which by law must
be said by any character he plays roughly 46 times per screen hour.
It's the second, so-clichéd-it's-scary hour
that is the problem with the movie. Although there is exactly zero
evidence in his favor, Childers and Hodges spend the whole second
hour persuading the jury that Childers is innocent. How? The
national security advisor has destroyed the best piece of evidence,
a videotape showing...well, I'll let you see for yourself. Hodges
can find no witnesses to support Childers' description of the scene
of battle in Yemen. Hell, the prosecution (led by the absolutely
gaunt Guy Pearce, from "LA Confidential") even finds a guy that
experienced Childers' wrath first-hand 28 FUCKING YEARS PRIOR IN
VIETNAM! Ahh, a question from the peanut gallery:
*Hey, Justin, let me get this straight: a
soldier that tried to kill Sam Jackson's character in 1968 shows up
in the courtroom of a totally different situation twenty-eight years
later, in America? Speaking perfect English? Is there a
tracking service for all of the Viet Cong still alive in the
world--it's got to be something really racist, like www.charlie.com?
Are you kidding?*
No, I'm not. And, at the end of the film,
this Vietnamese soldier and Childers have a really soft, movie
moment...and, at that point, I'm shaking my head so hard in
disbelief that I thought it was gonna fall off. Unfuckingbelievable.
There is more, but I don't want to ruin any more "surprises" than I
already have. This movie sits right on the fence for me, but there
is hope that the military courtroom drama is not a dead genre.
At least, a little hope.
Comments? Drop me a line at
Bellview Rating System:
"Opening Weekend": This is
the highest rating a movie can receive. Reserved for movies that
exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development,
setting...or Salma Hayek. Not necessarily in that order.
"$X.XX Show": This price
changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently,
it is the $9.50 Show. While not technically perfect, this is a
movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.
"Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca",
but you'll have a great time watching. The $9.50 Show won't win any
Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see
"Matinee": An average movie
that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.
Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about
yourself. A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave
the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that
Lakers game last night?"
"Rental": This rating
indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your
friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one." Mostly forgettable, you
couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to
watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the
video store was out of copies of "Ronin." If you can, see this
movie for free. This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a
"Hard Vice": This rating is
the bottom of the barrel. A movie that only six other human beings
have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen. A Shannon
Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every
one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a
movie. Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or
"Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this
movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!
(Warning: strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard