Tears Of The Sun cast: Bruce Willis, Monica Bellucci, Cole Hauser, Tom Skerritt, and Fionula Flanagan director: Antoine Fuqua 116 minutes (15) 2003 widescreen ratio 2.40:1 Columbia Tristar DVD Region 2 retail RATING: 6/10 reviewed by Christopher Geary

Just returning to his American base ship after a dangerous mission in Nigeria, US Navy SEAL team leader Lieutenant A.K. Waters (Bruce Willis) is briskly ordered back into the jungles of the civil war torn country to rescue a single American citizen, Dr Lena Kendricks (achingly beautiful Monica Bellucci), who’s caring for injured refugees at a small village hospital.

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Finding the compassionate doctor is unwilling to abandon her needy patients, Waters and his squad escort the locals to an airlift rendezvous, only to betray Kendricks’ appeal for help by leaving them behind and taking the struggling doctor aboard a transport helicopter. However, when Waters sees how the brutal revolutionary stormtroopers have slaughtered those Nigerians who remained at the Catholic missionary, his conscience urges him to ignore his protocols not to intervene in this nation’s internal conflict, and Waters directs his men to proceed with a full evacuation, even though it requires a wearying trek on foot, to safety at the border.

There’s an obligatory plot twist, of course, as the reason for the bad guys’ pursuit of Kendricks’ group is revealed, but the story offers very few surprises. As is usual with this kind of macho, sometimes jingoistic, Hollywood movie, the ‘heroic’ men of Waters’ unit have ‘cool’ one-syllable nicknames (‘Red’, ‘Zee’, ‘Slo’, ‘Silk’, ‘Flea’; etc) to give their leader’s radio-commands a terse, professional detachment. But the supporting cast, which includes Cole Hauser, Nick Chinlund, and others that I’ve not heard of before simply don’t have sufficiently well-defined characters for us to tell them apart, never mind elicit our sympathy when they are killed off.

For all its apparent modern, humanitarian sentiments expressed by the principal characters, Antoine Fuqua’s war zone drama often seems like an old-fashioned ‘western’ adventure. It’s a bit like The Dirty Dozen (1967) meets The Magnificent Seven (1960). However, there’s no hint of the moral ambiguities found in Kelly’s Heroes (1970), or The Wild Bunch (1969) and, despite the ‘conflict-of-interests’ central to the main plot, Tears Of The Sun hasn’t got the fiercely cynical bite of Catch-22 (1970). Instead, it’s stuck in the supposedly realistic mould of such ‘war is hell’ movies as Black Hawk Down, though it fails to match the chaotic intensity of Ridley Scott’s battle-horror opus. That said, the film this most resembles is the British mercenary adventure The Wild Geese.

Although the film’s deployment of military hardware (big helicopters, a warship) is impressive, and the jungle-fighting tactics of Waters’ soldiers presents evidence of the close involvement of professional ‘technical advisors’, other scenes in this weakly-gripping drama are puzzling, and suggest that the filmmakers did not get as much cooperation or assistance from US armed forces (were Pentagon officials upset by the story’s thinly veiled criticism of US foreign policy?) as they would obviously have preferred. Tom Skerritt’s character, Waters’ immediate superior, Captain Bill Rhodes, communicates with his men-in-the-field using a handheld radio, while standing upon the noisy main deck of an aircraft carrier. Wouldn’t an evacuation operation such as the one depicted here warrant a proper ‘control room’ securely and comfortably below decks?

Whatever production or scheduling problems Tears Of The Sun might have faced, do not excuse the general inadequacy of the screenplay by Alex Lasker (co-writer of John Boorman’s Beyond Rangoon, 1995) and Patrick Cirillo (who scripted the lame hospital-horror flick Exquisite Tenderness). Willis has been criticised for a ‘robotic’ performance here but, like the rest of the players, he’s been letdown by a shoddy script, which has little to say yet speaks its rhetoric at full volume anyway. It’s also been noted that Ms Bellucci always looks exquisitely lovely even after she is supposed to have been dragged through a zillion hedges backwards. Well, that’s Hollywood jungle chic for you. Glamour wins over grunge every time…

Tears Of The Sun is not so bad a film, in all honesty. It’s just not quite as good or entertaining as it various influences. There’s a typical batch of disc extras that go some way towards making up for the main feature’s deficiencies. A commentary by the director and writers covers standard material only, as does the making-of item. You also get relevant factoids, deleted scenes, the theatrical trailer, and text filmographies.