And appalling. Hands down, How did a bunch In fact, Webb’s That’s The film’s How are we What, you don’t And therein Back to the What follows The American Now, the continuing Still, at least Funny, not There are no Huh? That anyone, There are indeed Paramount is
And depressing. I thought that the film’s stealing the title of the most
important documentary of recent years, William Gazecki’s Waco: The Rules
of Engagement, would be its worst sin. But no; the sins multiply from there.
Friedkin’s last movie, Jade, was the cinematic equivalent of dog
puke. Compared to this new film, though, Jade now looks like The Sorrow
and the Pity.
Rules now owns the title of Sorriest Slice of Celluloid of the New Millennium,
and I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if it held on to that crown for months
or years to come. Besides which, in a distinction that clarifies its special
brand of awfulness, it straightaway claims a prime spot in the Museum of Stupidest
Movies Ever Made. Movies that would be hooted at by people who can’t count
past 10. Movies destined to test a moron’s patience.
of adults who can walk upright and feed themselves concoct something that is
pure, drooling idiocy in virtually every particular? What mind or minds could
hatch such a staggering abortion? Well, check it out: while the movie’s
screenplay is credited to Stephen Gaghan, who’s written for The Practice
and NYPD Blue–a mere tv hack, in other words–its story came
from the picture’s executive producer, James Webb, whose credit sheet contains
this interesting item: former U.S. secretary of the Navy.
credits include a lot more besides. He served as a Marine infantry commander
in Vietnam. Earned numerous decorations including the Navy Cross, the Silver
Star and two Purple Hearts. Got his law degree from Georgetown. Worked as a
journalist, winning an Emmy for his coverage of the Marines in Beirut in 1983
for McNeil/Lehrer. Served as the first assistant secretary of defense
for Reserve Affairs, then as secretary of the Navy (1987-’88). Is a recognized
scholar of the Vietnam War and spokesman for the veterans community. Has written
several books, fiction and non-.
an impressive resume, I’ll be the first to admit. Webb may well be a cool
and fascinating guy, but his handiwork on Rules of Engagement left me
wondering one thing: If a really smart ex-military guy can fashion a story that
plays like the mumblings of the most bitter and full-of-shit old dotard in the
VFW hall, what kind of movie would a dumb grunt come up with? The mind
story opens amid jungle warfare in Vietnam, 1968. Although neither looks a day
under 40, Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson play "young" officers
caught in desperate straits, which Friedkin conveys through the kind of camera-whipping
and sonic barrage that’s all the more fakey for trying so lamely to be
realistic. Hayes Hodges (Jones) is commanding a group of men that’s getting
beat to hell by NVA soldiers whose commander and radio operator just happen
to be held prisoner nearby by Terry Childers (Jackson). Childers orders the
commander to stop the attack, and threatens to kill the radio operator. Then
he does just that. Shoots his prisoner in the temple, just like in you-know-which
famous Vietnam newsreel. The commander now does as he’s told, thereby saving
supposed to feel about Childers and this scene? Well, it appears we’re
supposed to feel that in killing his prisoner he’s doing something tough
and no doubt very regrettable but something that, gosh darnit, just had to be
done. This is war, and he’s a good man, after all, Childers. In fact, he’s
buy that? You think maybe he was just a little bit wrong in murdering a helpless
man in his charge? Well then, you’re obviously a spineless wuss, but at
least you’ve hit upon the single, sentiment-basted thought at the core
of this self-cooking turkey: Only Military Guys Can Understand (OMGCU).
lies the contradiction that dooms the whole enterprise to absurdity. The movie
won’t work unless it can let the audience understand precisely what it
is that OMGCU. But it can’t, because (1) it’s so badly written and
directed. And (2) OMGCU, anyway.
idiotic story, after it flashes forward 30 or so years. Childers is now a Marine
colonel. When the U.S. embassy in Yemen is besieged by a mob of protesters,
he and a few choppers’ worth of Marines are sent in to save the day by
rescuing the cowering, craven Ambassador (Ben Kingsley, in the most pathetic
part any ex-Gandhi could ever encounter) and his hapless wife and son.
is, moment to moment, idea by idea, surely one of the most ludicrous scenes
ever to appear in a modern war film. Childers and company storm into the embassy
and escort the jellylike Ambassador and family to the waiting helicopter. But
Childers won’t leave, because he has to go back and get the flag.
(You think I’m making this up. Believe me, I couldn’t.)
soldiers, for reasons that defy analysis, all go to the roof of the embassy,
where, as the crowd of demonstrators howls on the street below, they’re
mercilessly targeted by a handful of snipers on nearby rooftops. Oddly, Childers
doesn’t order his men to take out the snipers. Instead, he suddenly determines
that there are shooters in the crowd–which includes lots of women, kids
and old folks–so he screams to his troops, "Waste the motherfuckers!"
They do; scores of Yemenis are mowed down in seconds.
scandal of Hollywood’s Arab-bashing smells to high heaven, but this film
manages to stun nonetheless. Near the end of last year, in a particularly odious
and underhanded example of political correctness, the Directors Guild of America
removed from the name of its annual prize that of D.W. Griffith, who was convicted
85 years after the fact of fostering intolerable "racial stereotypes"
in one of his several hundred films. Given the movie colony’s mammoth self-delusion
and boundless hypocrisy, you can be sure the DGA won’t raise a peep against
Billy Friedkin and Paramount for promoting the only vicious racial stereotype
that’s not only still permitted but actively endorsed by Hollywood.
you now see why the movie is set in the Middle East. If Childers had mowed down
a hundred Africans or Swedes, say, it might be a little hard for us to see our
hero’s act as just like that earlier murder in Vietnam: harsh but justifiable,
perhaps even heroic. Arabs deserve it, anyway–they’re the enemy, the
dark, fanatical other, aren’t they?
everyone agrees. When the world’s liberal and foreign newspapers
raise a front-page eyebrow at so many people being slaughtered, the president’s
oily national security adviser (Bruce Greenwood) decides Childers will have
to be thrown to the wolves via a court martial that can be rigged if necessary
to produce the desired result. Of course, this plot turn is the most preposterous
of all. The president has no need to back up the military? The joint chiefs
see no reason to stand behind their commander in the field (and he’s not
even gay)? Yep, it’s just as you always suspected: U.S. military command
and foreign policy are actually dictated by the editors of Le Monde.
women in this fantasy world, except for one speechless, cowering wife. And every
civilian male of note–the national security adviser, the Ambassador–is
a slimy turd. All of which reflects the corollary truism that Only Military
Guys Are Real Men. But the greater, looming truth is still OMGCU. Thus when
Childers is railroaded into that rigged military trial, only his old Vietnam
buddy Hodges, now a military lawyer, can understand and mount a real defense,
which ultimately–get this–rests on the most absurd twist of all: the
old NVA commander from that 1968 battle is brought in to testify that Childers
did the right thing in murdering the commander’s poor subordinate!
Yes indeed, we have here the winner of most pathetically ridiculous and nonsensical
movie scene of the year. Of course the U.S. should let its former enemies wipe
away any notion of proper military conduct. Why? Don’t ask, wuss. OMGCU.
much less a former secretary of the Navy, could cobble such a sub-sub-Tom Clancy
pastiche of boozy self-pity, chest-thumping vanity and hoary military fantasy
into a screen story is staggering enough. But the real stunner is that lots
of other people surely contrived to turn this risible bilge into a movie in
the year 2000. I sat through the film thinking of the number of sleek, Rolexed
Hollywood execs who must’ve looked at the movie’s script and other
elements and given their approval to it. What were they thinking? More
precisely, as a colleague said on the way out of the screening, "What audience
is there for this silly claptrap?"
bad movies and bad movies. You can understand the kind that’s made from
the desire to turn a quick buck by pandering to the public’s degraded tastes.
But the movies that really seem actively pernicious to me are those that defy
all obvious commercial logic, that seem to reflect hidden agendas and corrupting
influences not unlike those that this stupid film imputes to the government
and the civilian world. What am I talking about? Well, for example the reason
that Billy Friedkin, a has-been who’s made mostly crap for 20 years, gets
to mount yet another big Paramount project: because he’s married to Sherry
Lansing, the studio’s head.
owned by Viacom, which is run by Sumner Redstone. Does anyone out there have
the ear of Mr. Redstone? If so, call him up and invite him to take a look at
how much of his money Sherry Lansing’s spending on her marriage. This is
the kind of crime that only a good capitalist could remedy.
How did a bunch
In fact, Webb’s
How are we
What, you don’t
Back to the
Now, the continuing
Still, at least
There are no
There are indeed