War can be hell. This is a fact which is well known. On occasion, however, it also can be dull. Abysmally rote, monotonous, pointless, surprise-free and altogether un-“Saving Private Ryan”-like. For an example of this, see “Tears of the Sun.” Certainly, there isn’t any other reason to do so.
What a difference a year can make. Antoine (“Training Day”) Fuqua helped Denzel Washington win a Best Actor Oscar last March. With his latest, on the other hand, the director is unlikely to help anyone do much of anything except catch up on needed sleep. If a cornier, more self-indulgent and tiresome saga of military conflict has been committed to celluloid, I’ve been lucky enough to miss it.
Bruce Willis delivers a lazy, impassive performance in the role of a generic Navy S.E.A.L. squad leader. Tom Skerritt’s his superior officer. They’re based on a carrier off the African coast. When a generic ruthless tyrant deposes and slaughters the Nigerian royal family and embarks on a campaign of ethnic cleansing, Skerritt sends Willis and company into the jungle to get an American doctor and a handful of missionaries out of harm’s way.
Monica Bellucci plays the improbably babelicious physician. When Bruce and the boys barge into her operating hut and announce that she has just minutes to pack, she takes the improbable stance that she’s not going anywhere unless everyone else in the village can come too. Being a hard-bitten, no-nonsense, take-charge type (with only one helicopter), Willis makes a tactical decision to placate the woman. Everyone and his uncle are marched to a clearing where that one helicopter waits and suddenly Bellucci realizes she’s been played. Willis tosses her into the chopper and takes off leaving the nonplused, blubbering assemblage behind. So far so credible.
A few tears and accusing glances from the rescued woman later, though, the hard-bitten vet undergoes a total personality transformation and decides to turn the aircraft around. He’s never so much as questioned an order in his entire career and suddenly the guy’s risking court martial-not to mention the lives of his men-as the result of being guilt tripped by a sultry humanitarian. It’s the sort of scenario which could be drawn up only in a Hollywood war room.
I have my orders too and so I can’t reveal more when it comes to details of the story from that point on. Suffice it to say, the balance of the extravaganza is devoted to Willis’ noble effort to lead the ragtag throng through the jungle to a friendly border, all the while being pursued by the evil tyrant’s troops who are on their trail for reasons we don’t learn until late in the film and which do not exactly enhance the script’s credibility.
Aside from a few routine battle scenes, the movie’s action consists mostly of people slogging slowly through non-stop rain. This is not interesting, much less exciting. The dialogue is hokey hero blather. Apparently, the film’s producers neglected to budget for character development. I can’t remember caring less about a cast. The score by Hans Zimmer is an overwrought offense designed to imply high drama where none exists. The movie’s title does not make sense. Do not be fooled by television ads which compare this picture to “Black Hawk Down” or “We Were Soldiers.” It isn’t in their league.
As bad as almost every element of this picture is, the worst is probably its timing. What the world needs now doubtlessly is not another mindless celebration of military macho ablaze with laser guided clichés. For someone like Joel Silver to release a film like this might come as no great surprise. That a filmmaker as promising as Fuqua squandered time and talent on “Tears of the Sun” is nothing short of a crying shame.