Film review: 'Rules of Engagement'

Film review: 'Rules of Engagement'
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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