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2 items from 2000

Film review: 'Rules of Engagement'

3 April 2000 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

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.


Paramount Pictures

Paramount Pictures in association with Seven Arts Pictures

presents a Richard D. Zanuck/Scott Rudin production

Producers:Richard D. Zanuck, Scott Rudin

Director:William Friedkin

Writer:Stephen Gaghan

Story by:James Webb

Executive producers:Adam Schroeder, James Webb

Director of photography:William Fraker, Nicola Pecorini

Production designer:Robert Laing

Music:Mark Isham

Co-producer:Arne Schmidt

Costume designer:Gloria Gresham

Editor:Augie Hess



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


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Film review: What Planet Are You From?

28 February 2000 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

Given the caliber of talent involved, expectations run reasonably high for "What Planet Are You From?" -- the comic battle of the sexes directed by Mike Nichols and co-written by Garry Shandling.

But while the picture certainly seems very pleased with itself, it's a frustratingly one-note underachiever, succeeding neither as sharply observed satire nor raunchy sex farce.

There are definitely amusing moments to be found here, but there are more missed opportunities when it comes to mining something more astute than its tired take on the fundamental differences between men and women.

Columbia Pictures' aggressive marketing push could pay off in some solid opening business, but ultimately the film, unlike alien Shandling's humming private parts, will generate just a moderate buzz.

The story begins on H1449-6's (Shandling) planet. The alien planet is located four solar systems and several generations away from Earth. It's a highly evolved place, except for the fact that there are no women, and its empire-building ruler Graydon (Ben Kingsley) needs to propagate his adult male race.

Handed the more Earthling-friendly moniker of Harold Anderson, Shandling is chosen to find a woman and impregnate her, but not before being schooled in the art of the human mating dance and outfitted with highly mechanized genitals.

Harold quickly discovers that his crude but sincere pickup lines need about as much overhauling as his defective sexual apparatus, which sounds like a turbine engine starting up every time he becomes aroused.

While he doesn't get much assistance in the finesse department from womanizing colleague Perry Gordon (Greg Kinnear), he finally finds hope in the person of Susan (Annette Bening), a recovering alcoholic who ultimately agrees to Harold's baby-making request provided they first get married.

Meanwhile, an obsessed FAA agent (John Goodman) investigating a series of mysterious airline turbulence occurrences has picked up Harold's alien scent and is moving in quickly.

When "What Planet Are You From?" is at its best, as it is whenever alien-busting Goodman is on screen, there's a whimsical Woody Allen tone to the proceedings similar to "Sleeper" and "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex." For the most part, however, there's an prevailing smugness that carries over to the patronizingly crowd-pleasing happy ending.

And while Nichols and Shandling (along with the other three writers credited for the screenplay) are enjoying themselves, the cold, hard truth is that, pump it as they may, a buzzing penis bit will only take you so far.

Fuller advantage could have also been taken of the comedically adept cast. Although Goodman has one of the funniest scenes in the movie facing off against Kingsley, Bening is essentially playing a benign version of her "American Beauty" character (when asked what she does for a living, her reply that she's a real estate agent receives chuckles from knowing viewers). Kinnear's smarmy player, meanwhile, has nowhere to go. Even Shandling's shrugging bemusement schtick works better on the small screen.

Similarly wasted are Camryn Manheim, Nora Dunn and Ann Cusack, who play that most tired of contemporary comedy conventions -- the heroine's trio of best friends, a k a the female Greek chorus who dispense not-so-witty worldly wisdom about life and love.



A Brad Grey/Bernie Brillstein production

A Mike Nichols film

Producers:Mike Nichols, Garry Shandling and Neil Machlis

Director:Mike Nichols

Screenwriters:Garry Shandling & Michael Leeson and Ed Solomon and Peter Tolan

Story:Garry Shandling & Michael Leeson

Executive producers:Brad Grey, Bernie Brillstein

Director of photography:Michael Ballhaus

Production designer:Bo Welch

Editor:Richard Marks

Costume designer:Ann Roth

Music:Carter Burwell

Casting:Ellen Lewis



Harold Anderson:Garry Shandling

Susan Hart:Annette Bening

Perry Gordon:Greg Kinnear

Graydon:Ben Kingsley

Helen Gordon:Linda Fiorentino

Roland Jones:John Goodman

Nadine Jones:Caroline Aaron

Rebecca:Judy Greer

Cheryl:Anastasia Sakelaris

Alison:Camryn Manheim

Madeline:Nora Dunn

Liz:Ann Cusack

Running time -- 100 minutes

MPAA Rating: R


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