Rules of Engagement (2000) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Samuel L Jackson plays a military officer accused of using unjust and unnecessary force against a civilian protest outside the American embassy in Yemen. He asks Tommy Lee Jones, his best friend and former combat colleague, to defend him.

This is not a good script, and it really doesn't seem to produce a justifiable conclusion. I'm going to spoil it all for you and say that Jackson was exonerated, and I sure couldn't find anything in the trial evidence to justify that verdict.

It is true that he was steamrolled for political reasons, and that the ambassador and the national security advisor perjured themselves and destroyed evidence. But all that happened outside the courtroom, and the jury didn't know about it. Furthermore, from what we have seen outside the jury's purview, he seems to be guilty.

OK, the politicos needed a fall guy for the incident, so they created one for the press. But irrespective of the political machinations, Jackson did seem to be guilty as charged, based on what the jury saw, and even based on what we saw.

  • He lied to and hid things from even his own lawyer, who was also supposed to be his best friend. And he did this more than once, and kept doing it even after Tommy Lee got ticked the first time.
  • He had a history of similar behavior - disregard for the standard rules of combat - in that he once shot a POW in order to coerce behavior from his commanding officer.
  • In everything that we saw on camera, he was guilty of inappropriate action in ordering his men to fire into the crowd. It seems that the missing security tape would have confirmed his guilt.
  • Most important, the character simply didn't follow the rules of engagement. There are steps he had to follow. He didn't go through the steps. He might have eventually ordered his men to fire into the crowd, but there were a bunch of other things he needed to do before firing into the crowd, and he didn't do them. And he admitted it on the stand!

So why did the jury vote "not guilty"? I don't get it.

Anyway, setting that aside, it's a script with no subtlety and the characterizations are one dimensional. Good actors like Bruce Greenwood, Guy Pearce, and Ben Kingsley were asked to assay cardboard characters. Other good actors like Philip Baker Hall and Anne Archer have nothing at all to do.

And then we come to the worst flaw of all .....

A busy day in Unities. I actually wrote a new Scoopy Unity named after this film, to go with the two motivated by The Lost World. The worst element of the script is that it resolves several key plot lines with those word captions that appear with the closing credits. Huh?

Hey, it's a fictional story. If the characters really existed, sure, tell me that they are now safe and working in a bakery in Fond du Lac. If it is a comedy and their current whereabouts is a good joke, then do it.

But not if it's a serious drama about fictional characters:

If they are imaginary characters, then do the following:

  • If there is something I need to know about them, show it to me.
  • If there is something I don't need to know about them, don't show it to me.

Simple guidelines, eh? Why would they be so hard to follow?

No nudity.

Box Office: Like Shanghai Noon, it did well, and made a profit, but probably not as well as expected. They spent $60 million to make it, and released it in a blockbuster-level 3200 threaters. It did $61 million domestic. (It ended up higher than "Shanghai Noon", even though "Noon" won the battle of the opening weekends, 19 million in 2700 theaters versus 15 million in 3200.)

General consensus: Ebert, Maltin, and Berardinelli all gave it the same score - two and a half stars. I see that as the official score reserved for movies which aren't good enough to recommend, but have enough positives that you don't want to completely dump on them. I guess I feel about the same way.

IMDB summary: 6.6 out of 10.

Rotten Tomatoes summary. Although the IMDb viewers gave it a respectable score, the critics generally hated it. Only 38% positive overall, and an even weaker 27% from the top critics.

DVD info from Amazon.

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