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Rules of Engagement

Rated [R], 127 minutes
Starring Samuel L. Jackson and Tommy Lee Jones
Screenplay by Stephen Gaghan
Based on a story by James Webb
Directed by William Friedkin

IN SHORT: Jackson and Jones starpower saves a lackluster script.

We begin with a mob of Arab natives cursing at, throwing rocks and shooting rifles at, the American Embassy in Yemen. A team of Marines is sent in to reinforce the security at the Embassy and, depending on how bad the situation gets, safely evacuate the personnel if necessary. Ambassador Mourain (Ben Kingsley), by the time 32 year veteran Colonel Terry Childers (Samuel L. Jackson) gets there, is hiding under his desk. His wife (Anne Archer) and child are terrified. Colonel Childers does his job, evacuates the embassy and sees three of his men die from sniper fire and gunshots from the crowd. Having been fired upon, he orders return fire, and 83 people are killed. The world's press (that includes domestic) are outraged! National Security Advisor William Sokal (Bruce Greenwood) decides that not prosecuting the Colonel would be akin to a cover-up, and orders the Corps to put the vet out to hang. This, despite the fact that the NSA is in possession of a videotape from the Embassy security system, clearly showing women and children in the crowd firing upon the Embassy.

Gee whillickers, ladies and gents! A movie with something to piss off both Conservatives ("dee-FENSE! dee-FENSE") and whiny Liberals ("government conspiracy!") . . . and there's more blatant manipulative stuff in what passes for a script based upon a story by former Secretary of the Navy James Webb, but I'll leave that be. You'll catch it immediately. Director William Friedkin trowels it on top of a pair of combat sequences (one in Vietnam, the other the riot in Yemen) which set up everything that scriptwriter Stephen Gaghan decides not to bother with.

With eight day to muster up a defense, one colonel calls on another, Hays Hodges (Tommy Lee Jones) whom he had saved in Vietnam and who has lived out his days in the corps as a self-admitted bad lawyer. Simply put, Good Soldier. Self-admitted Bad Lawyer. Evil Government Stooge withholding evidence. Do I believe any of it?

Hell no.

Does it matter?

Hell no. 'cuz we all have that little switch inside our heads that can lock out everything that would piss us off 'cuz the star performances are so much damned fun to watch. Sure, it would be nice if we got to see a little more background on both men -- everything we need to know is found in expository dialog. And it would have been nice if the film didn't offer up a nod to Fight Club as a way of showing the deep friendship between these men. We know from their previous screen characters that Samuel L. Jackson plays the man against the system very well, just as we know that Tommy Lee Jones is Crankier than I. Both of 'em generate such electricity on the screen (and we're talking the inevitable trial that ends the movie. We've already pointed out that major character development in their parts just doesn't exist) that Rules of Engagement is a fun flick to watch.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Rules of Engagement, he would have paid...


Absolute Star Power rules in this one. There's so little story development here that, with lesser actors, Rules of Engagement would've gone down in flames. There was a Gulf War vet sitting behind me -- who wouldn't keep his mouth shut as he commented on the military sequences -- who called the whole thing "stupid" when the final credits rolled. But did he "hate the flick," I asked? Hell no.

Simply, buy the big popcorn and check your logic circuits at the door.

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