Rules of Engagement

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By Mark Ramsey | 2000/04/08

When a movie’s called Rules of Engagement, you might expect a little nookie between the co-stars, but something tells me Tommy Lee Jones would sooner stick red-hot pokers in his eye than poke anything within grasping distance of Samuel L. Jackson.

Here’s what happens: Sam leaves his kooky cap hanging on the coat-rack long enough to be dispatched with the Marines to a siege-in-progress at the U.S. Embassy in Yemen, which I’m told is a suburb of Cincinnati.

Their mission: Save a cowering, apoplectic Ambassador Ghandi from a crazed crowd of Holy Warriors. Meanwhile, junior asks mommy: “Are people mad at Daddy?” “No son,” mommy replies, “and just because the writer pens a stupid line like that doesn’t mean you have to read it.”

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Tempers flare, rocks fly, and guns blaze as picnic tablecloth-headed baristas swarm the embassy to stave off exportation of precious Yemen Mocha stockpiles to poetry-reading, SUV-driving, double-cap-drinking Vanilla Latte Satanists throughout the Infidel West. The rabble-rousing roasters hoist protest signs reading provocative slogans like: “Hey America, Don’t make us come out there!” and “Hell No, French Roast Won’t Go!”

When Sam orders his team to waste the crowd in front of the embassy, the question is: Did the Marines kill innocent people, or were these revelers packin’ more firepower than the guests at Chuck Heston’s barbeque?

Only the surveillance videotape knows for sure, and man oh man that tape ain’t subtle! Not since the last NRA fundraiser have so many smiling, toothless zealots happily waved their guns at the camera. Them teeth is used for target practice!

But only Sam saw the guns in the crowd, you see, so now he’s in deep doo-doo, and it’s time for a military trial of you-can’t-handle-the-truth proportions.

Enter attorney Tommy Lee for the defense. Meanwhile, the prosecutor is L.A. Confidential‘s Guy Pearce as “Lounge Guy.” He turns on the Sinatra swagger in a hey-hey, koo-koo performance that could earn Frank a posthumous Rasberry.

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In the aftermath of the melee in Yemen, Tommy Lee visits the embassy to investigate. He’s staying at the Yemen Grand Hyatt, where the rooms come in “Smoking,” “Non-Smoking,” and “Likely to Erupt in Smoke at Any Time.”

Tommy Lee is out to impress his military vet dad whose most significant achievement isn’t his distinguished service record, it’s being only five years older than his son, Tommy Lee.

Don’t miss the obligatory fistfight between Sam and Tommy Lee, where anger turns to love and dysfunctional mutual need faster than you can say “Nic Cage and Patricia Arquette.”

Rules of Engagement also features Bruce “Hello, Nick” Greenwood, Ashley Judd’s weasel hubby in Double Jeopardy, who’s back as a weasel White House guy. Bruce has made a career specialty out of climactic confrontations with Tommy Lee Jones. By now, you’d think these two would recognize each other!

Rules of Engagement is directed by William Friedkin, maker of The Exorcist, and Willy’s still got the touch, although I could have done without the ridiculous rifle-barrel cam. I’d go for the “bags-under-Tommy-Lee’s-eyes” cam, but I’m afraid all I’d ever see is Bruce Greenwood!

Why do fictional movies make up postscripts about what happens after the movie to characters who don’t exist? Isn’t this stretching the dramatic device a smidge too far? Judge for yourself:

• “Col. Sam Jackson retired from the Marines and took to wearing kooky caps and delivering inane dialogue to green screens for George Lucas”

• “When flickering lights later revealed that Bruce Greenwood disappears in the dark, he was positively identified as Tommy Lee Jones’ shadow.”

Please!

Rules of Engagement is good, not great. Tommy Lee and Sam eat up the screen like it’s a cheap Vegas buffet. And like a Vegas buffet, there’s plenty to chew on, but it sure could be tastier.

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