One of the most damaging developments to Hollywood in recent years isn’t that indie films are selling out, or that all the filming’s been relegated to dullest of Canada, or that celebrities and magazine covers are now more important than actors and acting, it’s that there’s no damn wars going on anymore. Even the boredom of the Cold War is today just a faint memory of those glory days when the good guys (Us) were really good and the bad guys (Them) were really bad and everyone got busy killing each other to prove it yet again. Unless filmmakers go back to the past and dig up the likes of Private Ryan’s body, Hollywood just doesn’t believe in the absolutes of war anymore. Don’t you hate it when that happens?
In “Rules of Engagement,” America’s naughty lack of a good ol’ war-time sensibility has relegated the United States military into nothing more than the occasional security guard it has become. And what with Gary Coleman being a security guard these days, that’s not a good thing. Militarians played by what may be the oldest duo ever duking it out in war time–Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson–spend the first half of the film gimping their seemingly arthritic-ridden legs through a shoddily recreated Vietnam War battle and an intensely small-fry rescue mission in modern day Yemen. Both actors–who are typically great actors–here offer sometimes weak and mostly merely adequate performances, amidst battle scenes where director William Friedkin seems to have decided that the new way people die is all of their blood and guts spigot out of them and spray directly at the closest camera.
When Jackson sort-of-accidentally wipes out 83 men, women, and children while rescuing the local American ambassador to Yemen–played all too briefly by Ben Kingsley–he gets in a lot of trouble and his buddy Jones, who by golly just happens to be a lawyer, must try and bail his a*s out in military court when Jackson gets charged with murder. Murder? What? War is murder. The problem with today’s war-less society is that we’ve allowed the creeping crud of political correctness to seep into every crack and cranny of our world–even the military which used to be my favorite poster society for the World Before PC. I hate that in this film war is subjected to a trial over just how right it is to kill in the name of saving lives and winning the battle. Screw the rules of engagement. If I can’t take self-righteous pleasure in the death of others in the cinema, I don’t know if life is worth living anymore.
In addition to the raping of the last bastion of virtuous amorality, “Rules of Engagement” is formulaic and pretty darn plodding. It’s an especial disappointment as it’s helmed by Friedkin, who won an Academy Award when it actually meant something in 1971 for the fabulous “The French Connection.” I say, boys, war is hell. Let’s keep it that way.