Rules of Engagement should have first gone over Rules of the Courtroom. As a war movie, Rules shines, but as a courtroom drama, it lacks in substance.
Samuel L. Jackson and Tommy Lee Jones head this military war/courtroom drama with lackluster results. Both act as friends who served in Vietnam together, Lee (as Hodges) being the one who was saved by Jackson (as Childers). The chemistry between the two work well enough but when they are apart, it is a completely different ballgame. As far back as I can remember, and, including this film, I have never seen a sore performance by Jackson. But can it really be that I haven't seen a decent performance out of Tommy Lee Jones since The Fugitive? Maybe I'm leaving out a movie, but if Rules of Engagement is any sign, his career needs a boost. Lately, he seems to be playing the same critical old geezer who fights against the odds, as seen in Double Jeopardy and even US Marshals. Maybe he should also think about choosing better scripts. Oh, Rules of Engagement has good plot written all over it, but presentation is a whole another thing. A lot of the dialogue seems really corny, especially for high-ranking military officers. In the courtroom, we are presented with yet another minor lawyer going against the system, and so he doesn't act quite as professional as one would think. And do you really need to guess how this movie ends up?
The dialogue is the most pertinent issue, but there are a lot of holes that are only filled by a few sentences at the very end of the movie. A lot of the holes would have been very entertaining to see filled on screen. I would like to see Bill Sokal get busted, preferably on the stand. I would like to see something done with the Ambassador and his wife (is Lee's preference of not wrecking someone's marriage more important than a friend being wrongfully charged on 83 counts of murder?). I would like to see more evidence in the case supporting Jackson's rather pitiful case. And I do not want to see one more cheesy salute, especially between a Vietnam Vet and an ex-Vietcong Captain. What the heck was that?
Oh, just to add one more thing in. I did not like Guy Pearce in this movie. I am not impressed by his performance one bit. He was excellent in L.A. Confidential, but this is not L.A. Confidential. In fact, a lot of the acting seems rather sub par, or is it just the dialogue again? And the scenes with Lee's father should be left out altogether.
If the dialogue was better and a little more thought was put into the courtroom side of Rules of Engagement, which really is the important piece of the film, it could be a good movie. The opening Vietnam scene is pretty intense, and the Embassy scene is also well done. The closing arguments aren't bad, but everything in between is not very good. I'll count this as a war movie, and if so, it still would not rank as my top picks. As a courtroom drama, Rules of Engagement marks way lower.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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