Review: “Rules of Engagement”

Courtrooms can be great settings for movies and television, it’s a place where there’s no flashiness or effects to distract you from things – everything relies on the sharpness of the script and the performance of the actors – it doesn’t matter whether the genre be drama (“Inherit the Wind”, “JFK”, anything Grisham related), comedy (“My Cousin Vinny”, “Ally McBeal”) or even sci-fi (“Star Trek: Next Generation” did the Emmy-nominated episode “The Measure of a Man” which was one of the best hours of courtroom television ever done).

Sadly this isn’t one of the better ones. It’s a good film, engaging at times, but otherwise its a relatively slow and straightforward drama reminiscent of a more serious version of the so-so “J.A.G.” TV series rather than a classy intelligent and memorable production like “A Few Good Men”.

Jones & Jackson have both starred in better courtroom films in recent times (“The Client” & “A Time to Kill” respectively) because they were clever – there were mysteries and unanswered questions not resolved till the end, humour, clever dialogue and unique character interaction (good example of that being the insulting/mutual respect attitude Jones and Susan Sarandon had in “The Client”).

Here everything is very straightforward – there’s no surprise twists as the mystery is pretty much resolved in the first 30 minutes so we spend the rest of the film watching the characters slowly come to the realisations we did ages ago.

The humour is pretty much non-existent, the dialogue and acting is solid but undistinctive. Jones comes off the best and Jackson does pretty good but Pearce and Greenwood are stuck in rather bland and uninteresting bad guy roles – just because they might show an ounce of regret or principles in one scene doesn’t make them anything more than a one-dimensional cardboard characters (and someone please tell Pearce to eat something, the guy looks anorexic).

Ben Kingsley and Anne Archer are completely wasted in supporting parts, in fact Archer has a meeting with Jones which seems to be setting her up to be a useful character later in the movie – but she never appears again. I won’t get started on the setting which once again flogs the “Arabs are terrorists” stereotype to death, though its an interesting thing when the best scenes of the film are a very bare on dialogue visit to Yemen by Jones. The setting of the Yemenese palace is fascinating, though that scene in which the soldiers unnecessarily risk their lives to remove an almost destroyed by gunfire US flag – please!!!

In the end its a disappointing effort from those involved. Had the script undergone some re-writes and enhanced its cleverness it might have worked better, as would having at least one female main character to balance things out a bit. I can see why this didn’t come out in the peak Summer season.