2 items from 2000
Movie star SAMUEL L. JACKSON was trading blows with Tommy Lee Jones on the set of their new movie. For Rules of Engagement (2000) the two actors were instructed by director William Friedkin to fight it out. And the star of Pulp Fiction (1994) says he got so into the realism of the fight scene he thought Tommy Lee was laid out. He explains, "I was amazed. When I flipped him one time and he hit that floor I thought he was dead! He popped right up. He's a tough guy, he's a cowboy." But Jackson didn't come out of the scene completely unscathed. He explains, "Actually I got scraped the first day we were actually talking about doing it and how it would work... Tommy Lee threw some punch at me and I put my arm up to block it and his watch scraped my arm. Luckily we liked each other or we would've had a perfect opportunity to do something!" »
Think of "Rules of Engagement" as the Marine Corps answer to "A Few Good Men". This military courtroom drama directed by William Friedkin sticks up loudly for the pride and professionalism of the Marines; the real enemies these movie Marines face are not so much foreign troublemakers -- they handle those with ruthless efficiency -- but a gutless diplomat and back-stabbing government official. Whatever its politics, though, "Rules of Engagement" feels like a remake. All too reminiscent of any number of court-martial melodramas, this Paramount film may attract a few males over 25 but contains nothing for younger or female audiences.
That said, this is a spit-and-polish production with solid if unremarkable performances by Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson and early exciting footage, shot in Morocco, of a U.S. embassy under siege.
Jackson is a Marine colonel who commands a rescue mission into Yemen when violent protesters surround the embassy. He plucks the ambassador (Ben Kingsley) and his wife (Anne Archer) from danger but leaves behind a body count of three Marines plus 83 Yemeni citizens. He becomes a scapegoat in an ensuing diplomatic crisis and is court-martialed for murder.
The lawyer Jackson chooses to defend him is Jones, his longtime friend and a fellow combat veteran. Jones is also a third-rate attorney and an alcoholic with a busted marriage and a general for a father -- you know the drill, a guy in dire need of redemption.
The prosecutor is a straight-arrow Marine whose only combat duty came from a feisty office stapler. He is played by Guy Pearce, who in trying to lose his Aussie accent winds up sounding almost Prussian. Or maybe that's what he was going for.
Stephen Gaghan's screenplay, based on a story by former Marine and high-level government official James Webb, makes the damaging decision to reveal Jackson's innocence before the trail gets under way. After you watch the villainous national security adviser (Bruce Greenwood) destroy a tape vindicating Jackson's decision to fire back at armed protesters, even as he instructs Kingsley's scared-rabbit diplomat to lie on the stand, the film fails to hold any suspense.
Instead, the viewer experiences mere frustration at the highly improbable cover-up of terrorism by an American official, the motive for which is never really clear.
At least Jackson and Jones put enough energy into the static courtroom scenes to give them more charge than they deserve. The rest of the acting suffers from over obviousness, from a need to spell things out with black-and-white characterizations.
The cinematography, a shared credit for William Fraker and Nicola Pecorini, is top-notch, giving real urgency in the embassy sequence and a dark, brooding quality to the latter half of the picture. Mark Isham's dynamic music is also a big plus.
RULES OF ENGAGEMENT
Paramount Pictures in association with Seven Arts Pictures
presents a Richard D. Zanuck/Scott Rudin production
Producers:Richard D. Zanuck, Scott Rudin
Story by:James Webb
Executive producers:Adam Schroeder, James Webb
Director of photography:William Fraker, Nicola Pecorini
Production designer:Robert Laing
Costume designer:Gloria Gresham
Col. Hayes Hodges:Tommy Lee Jones
Col. Terry Childers:Samuel L. Jackson
Maj. Mark Biggs:Guy Pearce
Gen. H. Lawrence Hodges:Philip Baker Hall
William Sokal:Bruce Greenwood
Capt. Lee:Blair Underwood
Mrs. Mourain:Anne Archer
Ambassador Mourain:Ben Kingsley
Running time -- 128 minutes
MPAA rating: R
2 items from 2000
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