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Tears of the Sun
Review written by: Alex Sandell

After the critical and financial debacle that was Hart's War, Bruce Willis needs a career boost in much the same way an all-night trucker needs a shot of ephedrine.  Unfortunately for Mr. Willis, and for his fans expecting Tears of the Sun to kick him back into the coveted action star status he attained in the late 80s, it's going to have to wait.  If Bruce didn't have the upcoming Die Hard 4:  Die Hardest to fall back on, I'd predict that a made-for-TV Moonlighting reunion would be right around the corner (A Very Moonlighting Christmas?).  Maybe he could follow that up as the new Mr. Drummond in a Diff'rent Strokes mini-series.  As it stands, Bruce is starring in Tears of the Sun, a film so Lackadaisical Gary Coleman couldn't make a comeback out of it.

To get an idea of just what you're in for with Tears of the Sun, imagine a pinch of Seven Samurai, a few tablespoons full of Saving Private Ryan and a heaping pile of The Sand Pebbles.  Now that you've combined those fine ingredients together in your mind's mixing bowl, bake them at a lukewarm temperature, rip the guts and originality from all three of them, and shove a load of clichés into the place where the heart should be.  That's Tears of the Sun in a nutshell. 

The film was quite obviously modeled after the movies above -- The Sand Pebbles in particular.  The only real difference between those films and Tears of the Sun is Sun's indifference to actually being a movie that matters.  Instead, the film seems perfectly content with settling for being nothing more than a movie that simply wants to give the impression of mattering.  This is self-important fluff that should put the audience to sleep long before Edmund Burke's famous quote, "the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing," spans across the screen, embedding itself into people's brains in a last-ditch attempt at convincing them that they just witnessed something important.

The ironic thing about Burke's quote is that it could also sum up Tears of the Sun; the movie is fundamentally two hours of good men doing nothing.  We have a good director in Antoine Fuqua, who proved he could provide nail-biting suspense with last year's Training Day, but can't find his footing with the visionless script that he's filming.  We have a good cinematographer in Mauro Fiore, who can't manage to gloss over the tedious muck that he's working with.  We have a good ensemble cast, all wasted on a weak script that doesn't give them a chance to actually perform.  Never have I watched a war movie this dispassionate. 

The only person to breathe any life into the film is Monica Bellucci, playing Doctor Kendricks, who's working at a Catholic Mission in war-torn Nigeria.  Bellucci overacts her way through the entire picture, but at least she doesn't appear to be taking handfuls of downers throughout the proceedings.  Lieutenant A.K. Waters (Bruce Willis) is sent with an elite squadron of tactical specialists to save the peppy doctor when Nigeria's Democratic Government is taken over by a merciless Dictator.  To complicate matters further, Dr. Kendricks refuses to get the hell out of Dodge unless Lieutenant Waters agrees to take her patients to some U.S. fortress sort of thingie, where they will be safe.

Waters reluctantly agrees, but actually only plans on completing his mission, putting Dr. Kendricks onto a chopper, while leaving behind everyone else to be slaughtered by the Velociraptors (sorry, wrong movie).  Flying over the jungle, Waters sees that the missionary where Kendricks worked has been demolished by the baddies and suddenly has a change of heart, ordering the helicopter to turn around for Kendricks' other patients.  Captain Bill Rhodes (Tom Skerritt) insists that Waters stick to the original mission, and orders the Lieutenant to avoid getting involved in the political confrontation any further than he already has.  Naturally, Waters disobeys Captain Rhodes, presumably for the first time in his military life (it's not as though this movie takes any time to flesh out a single character), and decides that he will escort the sick patients through the nearly impenetrable jungle, and to safety. 

Now shouldn't this be the part where the story gets interesting? 

Sadly, it doesn't.  All we really see are a handful of actors who appear to have slammed down a few too many Valium shakes with Xanax shots as chasers.  The interchangeable characters mumble their way through a series of denunciations over the heartlessness of simply "following orders."  This could make for a damn interesting premise if the actors seemed at all interested, or if they were given a few good lines to read.  Instead we get generic dialogue that would be impossible to spit out with a straight face, unless you were bighting your cheeks to hold in the laughter, which may well explain the indolent attitude of the cast. 

I don't want to give away Tears of the Sun to those of you who absolutely can't resist attending it, but I will reveal that the film never picks up in pace until the last five or ten minutes, and Bruce Willis is so awkwardly apathetic throughout the picture that he ends up coming off as a foul-mouthed Mr. Rogers rather than a Navy SEAL who suddenly grew a conscience.  Midway through the film, I was so entirely bored by Bruce's performance that I would have given my first-born just to watch Willis wake up and give us a vivacious, "yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker!"  I warn you now that there is a good 90 minutes left of the film after Lieutenant Waters decides to disobey orders, but most of it is spent listening to nondescript soldiers rambling about moralistic issues that have been covered in about 300,000 movies before Tears of the Sun even became a sparkle in Hollywood's eye.  And no, there is no "yippee-ki-yay." 

The movie does have a few high points.  The cinematography is incredible, at least what you can see of it.  At times the film is so darkly lit that you have trouble making anything out.  Antoine Fuqua handles the final battle scene in a competent manner, creating one of the few thrilling -- if entirely predictable (rule # 1:  if a wild pig walks by a soldier, said soldier is gonna get shot) -- moments we're given in this radically overlong film.  And then there's the most mystifying thing of them all:  how the hell does Dr. Kendricks keep such perfect hair and makeup throughout all her climbing, crawling and walking through the jungle?  When everyone else in the film is covered in dirt, bruises and cuts, Kendricks looks like she just walked off the cover of Maxim.  Pay attention to her consistently flawless makeup, and you may get a few laughs out of this humorless picture. 

Tears of the Sun is almost a complete waste of your money.  But, if you're going to have to choose between it and the god-awful Bringing Down the House this weekend, I'd go with Tears.  Better yet, stay home, make some popcorn and rent The Sand Pebbles.  You won't be sorry, at least as long as you prefer quality films over their lackluster semi-remakes.

On a scale of 1-10?

3

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Text ©(Copyright) 2002 Alex Sandell [All Rights Reserved].