Copyright 1999-2003 3BlackChicks Enterprises™. All Rights Reserved.

Bams' review of
Rules Of Engagement


Rules Of Engagement (2000)
Rated R; running time 123 minutes
Genre: Drama
IMDB site:
Written by: Stephen Gaghan (based on the story by James Webb)
Directed by: William Friedkin
Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Greenwood, Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley, Blair Underwood, Anne Archer, Philip Baker Hall, Nicky Katt, Hayden Tank, Amidou, Mark Feuerstein, Dale Dye

Review Copyright Rose Cooper, 2000

(click here to skip to this movie's rating)

If you had told me this time last week that there was even the most remote chance that I'd damn near fall asleep while watching anything starring acting powerhouses Samuel L. Jackson and Tommy Lee Jones, I would've laughed in your face.

You'll notice I'm not laughing.

THE STORY (WARNING: **spoilers contained below**)
Colonel Terry Childers (Samuel L. Jackson), a highly-decorated, no-nonsense field Marine, is assigned to "babysit" the Ambassador Mourain (Ben Kingsley), his wife (Anne Archer), and their son Justin (Hayden Tank), during a protest by Yemeni citizens at the Yemen Embassy. He sends the terrified Ambassador and his family on their way, and proceeds to try to get the situation under control. But something goes terribly wrong; when the protestors start shooting and killing Marines, Childers orders Captain Lee (Blair Underwood) to give the order to the Marines to "waste the motherf---ers", under the "rules of engagement": policies and procedures put forth by the US President and Secretary Of Defense that allow US military forces to take actions they deem necessary to protect themselves from hostile forces.

National Security Advisor Bill Sokal (Bruce Greenwood), needing a scapegoat to take the focus off the government's part in the death of 83 Yemeni citizens, demands that Childers be courtmartialed for murder, and brings in Major Mark Biggs (Guy Pearce), a very capable military lawyer who has spent more time behind a desk than behind a rifle, to prosecute the case. Knowing what he's up against, Childers seeks out newly-retired Colonel Hays Hodges (Tommy Lee Jones), with whom Childers served a tour of duty in Vietnam in 1968, saving Hodges' life when he was under severe fire by the enemy. Hodges, however, doesn't have the confidence in himself that Childers has; seeing himself as only a "shot-at Marine" and a very weak lawyer, Hodges reluctantly takes Childers case - but soon discovers that things in this case may not be as they seem.

I briefly watched CBS's early morning news-light program on Monday, and caught the tail end of Gail wazzername's review of this movie [which reminds me: though I can't remember her last name, it's undeniable that, even with the dismal ratings of this pseudo-news telecast, Ms. Wazzername should be considered a "nationally known Black reviewer". That last bit will mean something to those of you who've read the history behind 3BC. But I digress]. I was more than a little shocked to hear her use terms such as "powerful" and "emotional" when describing this flick's contents. I guess we must've watched two different movies; I've seen more emotions in a loaf of bread that anything I saw within Rules Of Engagement.

The onus for this rests squarely on the shoulders of three men: director William Friedkin, and actors Samuel L. Jackson and (to a somewhat-lesser extent) Tommy Lee Jones. Friedkin lost me early on; once that camera of his started looking like something straight out of NYPD-Blue, I knew it would be a struggle to take this movie seriously. Of course, it doesn't help that Rules has a very derivative, been there/done that feeling. It suffers from the comparisons with A Few Good Men, Courage Under Fire, and for that fact, Platoon. And with the big push these days, post-Saving Private Ryan, toward movies about World War II, one has to wonder why Vietnam was the (bad) choice for a starting point here.

As for Jackson and Jones, to say I was disappointed, would be an understatement. I've always thought I'd be happy to watch these two read the Yellow Pages; but even that would've been more exciting than their flat performances in Rules. The normally-explosive Jackson had exactly three moments of powerful clarity: the first was his vintage Samuel L. "motherf---ers" outburst; the second was the Obligatory Fight Scene Between Friends (Childers and Hodges) - which led to Childers blurting out the cliched "you're nothing a drunk!" (which itself led to me rolling my eyes and groaning in dismay at the cliche); and the last was the also Obligatory, though still enjoyable, courtroom scene where Major Biggs confronted him about the original outburst. That's it; everywhere else, Jackson could've been played by his stunt double, and I wouldn't have noticed. Jones fared a little better; though he played against type in his portrayal of a Colonel without command - of himself, primarily - he did show a few moments when his strong acting skills were brought to the fore. These moments were too few and far between, though, and I began thinking that his character shared between The Fugitive and Double Jeopardy would be a lot more fun to watch than the boring Colonel Hodges.

In a nutshell, I never once felt any real chemistry between Jackson and Jones; any feints toward Childers and Hodges supposed friendship rang hollow, and everything between Childers' outburst and the completely flat and unimaginative ending, felt like so much filler, with the outcome of the trial a foregone conclusion. The outrageous epilogue only added insult to injury, but by that time, I was more than ready to quickly exit, stage right.

The supporting cast, had they been used to the extent of their abilities, might have made this movie somewhat more bearable. Ben Kingsley playing a cowardly Ambassador? Hey, that had legs; why didn't they explore it more? Blair Underwood as a Captain asked to order the execution of what he thought were innocent citizens? What a subplot! hmmm...but he's out of the movie almost as quickly as he was there. Philip Baker Hall as the senior General Hodges, playing against Jones as Hodges Jr., with the addition Nicky Katt as Hayes Hodges the third? Talk about your generation gap! Talk about your clash of titans, between Hall and Jones! Talk about your...what do you mean, they never really "talked" about it?

Talk about a waste of potential. There were a bright spots, however: as the "unfeeling" prosecutor, Guy Pearce's Major Biggs made more of his part than was probably written in the script. Pearce, along with Anne Archer in her turn as the Ambassador's wife, and Hayden Tank as her convincingly frightened son, showed the only real emotion in this otherwise linear movie.

In the end, I had the same feeling of disconnect with Rules that I had with The Insider, in that both of them presented the viewer with a "duh!" situation: "Big Tobacco/Government Evil Empires seek targets to take the brunt of the blame for their own Evildoing? Duh!". The difference between Insider, and Rules, though, is that the former engaged me with interesting - and interested - performances by the cast and crew. Rules never came close. Laughingly lame special effects (could that blood have looked more fake?), bad camerawork (clue number 1: please leave Shaky-Cam on ER and NYPD-Blue where it belongs), ill-advised casting decisions (clue number 2: 1968 was more than 30 years ago; if Tommy Lee and Samuel look exactly like they looked in 1968's Vietnam, I'm a monkeys uncle. Next time, don't be so cheap; splurge on younger lookalikes for the flashback scenes) and most of all, off-the-mark performances by its lead players, totally shot any chance that I could suspend my disbelief long enough to just ignore the bad for the little good that was there.

I can live with being The Only One who didn't find this movie compelling; the majority of reviews I've read thus far, pretty much laud Rules Of Engagement as the best movie of this dismal film season. No matter; I stand firmly behind my opinion that there was precious little on the screen that came across as heartfelt. The director and his actors - Jones and Jackson in particular - played by numbers that have been played much better in the past by actors with nowhere near the talent they have, and for those in the audience paying attention beyond the smoke and mirrors, that was the true insult.

If I hadn't seen the neutering of two of the biggest bulls in the acting arena today - Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson - with my own two eyes, I wouldn't have believed it was possible. Who'da thunkit?


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And that's the way I see it.

Rose "Bams" Cooper
3BlackChicks Review™
Copyright Rose Cooper, 2000
EMAIL:    ICQ: 7760005

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More 3BlackChicks™ review(s) for this week:
(movies reviewed week of 4/7/00):

Bams' reviews:
Black And White | Rules Of Engagement

The Diva's reviews:
Rules Of Engagement

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