Rules of Engagement is one of these waste products: pulling together a great cast, a great story idea, and a great director, then letting it all fall apart into a mess of things I wouldn't even blame Joel Schumacher for.
The movie revolves around the trial of an accused Army officer (Samuel Jackson) trying to subdue an attack on the US Embassy in Yemen, but who ends up quelling the dispute by having his men fire into the crowd of demonstrators. All evidence that would justify his actions becomes MIA, and he calls upon his friend and fellow comrade-in-arms, Tommy Lee Jones, to defend him. Jones complies out of a sense of honor, because during a tour in 'Nam, Jackson saved Jones' ass during a VC ambush. Soon, everything turns against Jackson and his defense team, and then the movie runs through about three or four different plot twists stolen from such films as The Verdict, The Rainmaker, A Few Good Men, and Courage Under Fire. In the end, I was clawing at my seat, wanting to run home and watch a decent film to remind myself why I like movies in the first place.
Strangely, all the elements of the film were there. It starts with a great cast of Tommy Lee Jones, Sam Jackson, Guy Pearce (doing his best De Niro impression), Philip Baker Hall, Ben Kingsley, Anne Archer, and Kim Delaney. Running the show is the great William Friedkin, of such films as The Exorcist, The French Connection, and To Live and Die in L.A. There's a compelling story of a man's defense of his honor and the comrades compelled the stand by him to defend said honor. A background littered with the conflict of war and the regrets of past defeats. How can you screw that up?
Well, you just can. The film is flawed on many fronts: The horrible miscasting of Guy Pearce as a Brooklyn Navy lawyer "just trying to get to the truth of things." A ridiculous courtroom scene that had me waiting for someone to scream, "You can't handle the truth!" Choppy direction, which feels like Friedkin was running the show at first but then an assistant director took the helm. The underdeveloped characters of Jones and Jackson. Any semblance of "acting." And a really, really bad ending that tells us sickly that the brutality of war is justifiable.
The shoulders that carry most of the blame are the screenwriters, who failed to piece together anything resembling a cohesive plot. To wit, two rules should be followed in the future whenever a studio is considering to greenlighting a film. 1) Do not hire a former Secretary of the U.S. Navy to write the story. 2) Shy away from accepting scripts from one of the uncredited screenwriters of I Still Know What You Did Last Summer.
You'd be upset, too.
Run time: 128 mins
In Theaters: Friday 7th April 2000
Box Office Worldwide: $71M
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 1 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 36%
Fresh: 34 Rotten: 60
IMDB: 6.3 / 10
Director: William Friedkin
Producer: Scott Rudin, Richard D. Zanuck
Screenwriter: Stephen Gaghan
Starring: Tommy Lee Jones as Col. Hayes Lawrence "Hodge" Hodges II, Samuel L. Jackson as Col. Terry L. Childers, Guy Pearce as Maj. Mark Biggs, Ben Kingsley as Ambassador Mourain, Bruce Greenwood as National Security Advisor Bill Sokal, Anne Archer as Mrs. Mourain, Blair Underwood as Capt. Lee, Philip Baker Hall as Gen. H. Lawrence Hodges, Dale Dye as Gen. Perry, Amidou as Dr. Ahmar