[Note: I wrote this review while employed at Paramount Pictures.]
Out of all the Hollywood studios, my employer Paramount has a tendency to churn out the most conservative/reactionary motion pictures around these days. Case in point: The Rules of Engagement. The studio decided to play it completely safe, combining several sure-fire elements from their recent hits: the hero and villain from last year's Double Jeopardy (Tommy Lee Jones and Bruce Greenwood), the star of their upcoming Shaft remake (Samuel L. Jackson), a military investigation (ala The General's Daughter), and a director who just happens to be married to Paramount's head of motion pictures, Sherry Lansing.
As soon as the ink on all the talent's contract dried, the studio must have figured that the movie itself could just go on auto-pilot. Which The Rules of Engagement basically does.
Jackson is a war hero called in to rescue a US Ambassador (Ben Kingsley, doing it for the paycheck) from civil unrest in the small Middle Eastern country of Yemen. A Muslim demonstration outside the US embassy turns violent and, after three of Jackson's Marines are killed by sniper bullets, Jackson suddenly orders his troops to open fire on the supposedly "peaceful" crowd of women and children protesting. 83 Muslims are killed and dozens more injured in the melee.
Jackson returns to the US to face a court martial. He asks his old 'Nam buddy (Jones) to defend him, even though all the evidence - and the audience's own eyes - seems to support the case against him. So Jones does a little good old investigatin' in Yemen, finds out some stuff, blah blah blah, and courtroom drama ensues.
No surprises here, but if you're a fan of the Perry Mason stuff you'll be entertained for two hours. Of course there's a government cover-up involved, and of course the Arabs are all depicted as bug-eyed, screaming savages. There's also quite a bit of violence throughout the film, and a generally knee-jerk pro-military tone that turns downright insulting by the film's rushed conclusion.
The performances are serviceable (except for an over-emoting Anne Archer, bless her cut scenes) and the dialogue is crisp. But please - there are plenty of good films out there much more worthy of your time and money than this.