The only thing Rules of Engagement needs to make it completely predictable and clichéd is Jack Nicholson shouting, "you can’t handle the truth." That is in no way to diminish A Few Good Men, but rather the makers of Rules who wanted to create a hybrid of a past Best Picture nominee and an equally powerful military drama, Courage Under Fire.
For this scenario, two Vietnam buddies reunite after one of them is accused of violating rules of engagement by ordering shots into a crowd of allegedly unarmed civilians in Yemen. When a large group of demonstrators besieges the U.S. Embassy, Col. Terry Childers (Samuel L. Jackson) and his Marines are sent to rescue the ambassador and his family. Soon after, the violence escalates, leaving more than 80 civilians dead and the U.S. government looking for a scapegoat.
Facing court-martial, Childers enlists the legal representation of his now retired colleague and friend, Hays Hodges (Tommy Lee Jones). Believing himself to be a has-been military man and inept attorney, Hodges reluctantly accepts the daunting task of clearing his friend who has the evidence stacked against him. Making matters worse, it appears that Childers is the victim of a government cover-up, and Hodges’ courtroom counterpart is none other than a dashing young prosecutor (Guy Pearce) determined to make an example out of Childers.
The onset and premise of Rules are engaging, but all too soon play out to be a lesser version of previously made films. Additionally, the script proves to be beneath the star power it recruited, including director William Friedkin (famous for The French Connection and The Exorcist) and Jackson, who unleashes a barrage of military-Americana soliloquies.
But hybrids and clichés notwithstanding, Rules’ bigger travesties lie in two areas: film formulation and social irresponsibility. First, by allowing the audience to know from the beginning what actually happened in Yemen, the film overlooks the obvious opportunity to be more thrilling by unfolding the drama during the trial. Second, in picking the enemy, the film (once again) relegates Arabs to stereotypical images.
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