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"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  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.

Rating:  Matinee


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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 "Office Space"). 

"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, 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 half stars." 

"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 Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09