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Rules of Engagement

Unless you're a big Tommy Lee Jones or Samuel L. Jackson fan, there's really no reason to watch Rules of Engagement, a flag-waving military drama that ultimately buys into a militaristic "my country, right or wrong" philosophy. The film tells the story of Hayes Hodges (Jones) and Terry Childers (Jackson), two veteran Marine colonels who find their 20-year friendship tested when Childers is court-martialed and asks the just-retired Hodges to defend him. Hodges, who spent his career stuck behind a desk as a military attorney because of a wound he got in Vietnam (where Childers saved his life), agrees, despite a lack of confidence that he can do the job. The case is a big deal, you see — Childers is on trial for ordering his men to shoot at hostile Yemenese civilians during a mission to rescue the U.S. ambassador; 83 men, women, and children were killed. In need of a scapegoat, the government lets Childers take all the blame for the incident, interfering with evidence that could help exonerate him. (Don't worry — believe it or not, that's not a spoiler.) An uncomfortable mix of action movie, mystery, and courtroom drama, this misfire of a movie has several problems — not the least of which is that it doesn't offer anything viewers haven't already seen done, and seen done better. Looking for an action film that explores the complex moral issues of the United States' involvement in the Middle East? Try Three Kings. In the mood for a suspenseful military courtroom drama filled with plenty of scenery chewing? Go for A Few Good Men. But don't bother with Rules, which ultimately dismisses Childers' actions as the God-given duty of any Marine in uniform. And ambiguous ethics aside, the film doesn't even have decent dialogue; a lot of it is over-the-top tripe like "If I'm guilty of this, I'm guilty of everything I've done in combat for the last 30 years." Paramount's DVD release includes a commentary track by director William Friedkin (yep, the guy who won an Oscar for The French Connection made this clunker), a 23-minute behind-the-scenes featurette, and "Rules of Engagement: A Look Inside," a second featurette that consists of 13 minutes of interviews and clips. The film does look and sound good, with a clean anamorphic widescreen transfer and audio in Dolby Digital 5.1 (English) or Dolby 2.0 Surround (French). Keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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