Rules of Engagement

Bomb Rating: 

There's only one reason for the opening scene -- a battle during the Vietnam War -- and that's so we recognize a certain Vietnamese soldier when he reappears toward the end of the film. Otherwise, it's hard not to sit there and wonder what everybody was thinking. After all, this is the Vietnam War thirty years ago yet Samuel L. Jackson and Tommy Lee Jones are playing themselves. So, Jackson saves Jones. That takes all of two seconds to mention casually.

I hope director William ("Blue Chips") Friedkin was intending this as the war "as the characters remembered it," because otherwise it seems about as realistic as setting it in the desert. Col. Terry Childers (Jackson) and Col. Hays Hodges (Jones) look older thirty years ago then they do in 2000. Exactly what kind of makeup were they going to use to get the wrinkles out of Tommy Lee Jones's face? Do they make face plaster? Does Revlon do "hole-be-gone?" And Samuel Jackson is supposed to seem 20 because he's got a bandanna on his head? Message to the Academy: Hand that Costuming award over now. Who came up with the formula that a 50-year-old with a bandanna on his head somehow equals a 20-year-old?

And then when they come back to the present, Col. Hays Hodges is older than his mother. Seriously, he visits home and his mom looks like she had him when she was three. I know the military life can be cruel, but that's ridiculous. This all has little to do with the story, but when you sit there wondering about all this stuff, it severely detracts from whatever else the film is trying to accomplish.

Friedkin is trying to contrast the conflicting goals of soldiers and politicians. Soldiers complete missions and protect themselves and their troops while politicians play cover-your-ass. Childers shoots a whole bunch of people in Yemen and a bureaucrat (Bruce Greenwood) wants to hang him out to dry for it. This all turns into a predictable courtroom drama with Hodges defending Childers and doing a swell job even though his entire life suggests that he'd be better off scrubbing toilets. The film ends with some notes like "Bureaucrat sent to jail," which proves just how bad it is, since if you can't end a film with an image, you probably shouldn't make it in the first place.

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