Tears of the Sun. Sony Pictures presents a film directed by Antoine Fuqua. Written by Patrick Cirillo and Alex Lasker. Running time: 121 minutes. Rated R (for strong war violence, some brutality and language). Starring Bruce Willis, Monica Bellucci, Cole Hauser, Johnny Messner, Tom Skerritt.

Tears of the Sun

Tears of the Sun plays out like a list of what makes a bad war movie. It's poorly written, unbelievably dark, cloying, about as deep as a puddle, and - worst of all - boring. To be fair, it's not terrible; the acting is decent, and the direction (by Antoine Fuqua, director of last year's Training Day) is effective. But the positive aspects are outweighed by the sheer ineptitude displayed in the rest of the film.

Muslim rebels in Nigeria have staged a coup and, after assassinating the President and his family, are beginning to kill any Christians they can find. A military captain (Tom Skerritt) has organized a group of soldiers to rescue Dr. Lena Hendricks (Monica Bellucci), an American citizen in harm's way. To lead the assignment, they get A.K. Waters (Bruce Willis). Dr. Hendricks is easily found, but she won't leave without all the able-bodied Nigerian natives living at the mission she at which she is stationed. At first, Waters refuses, but he eventually changes his mind and sets out to lead the natives to the Cameroon border.

The movie's greatest flaw can best be summed up in one of my notes - "Who the hell are these people?" The characters are developed so poorly that, with the exception of Waters, one of his soldiers, and Hendricks, I never could learn any of the characters' names. Instead of fully realized individuals, we get one-dimensional cut-outs who have no purpose other than to die. But, when they do die, there is no sense of remorse, of loss. We have no reason to care what happens to these people.

The movie's political backdrop is interesting - especially considering that it really happened - but, short of a brief news broadcast opening the movie, there is no explanation of what exactly is going on, or why the rebels are acting like they are. Is the current leader a despot? Are the Muslims being persecuted? We don't know, and I'm not sure the screenwriters do either. We Were Soldiers worked largely because the enemy was allowed to become human. In Tears of the Sun, there is none of that. Sure, the rebels' actions are monstrous, but they're still people. The movie doesn't show that - the rebels are demons who kill just because they can, and their leader is nothing more than a tall, evil-looking man with no name.

Earlier in the review I stated that the movie was boring. The action is actually not terribly dull, but because we don't care what's going on, there is no tension, and no sense of excitement. And the cinematography doesn't help much; sometimes, it's gritty and well done, but mostly it's just dark. During a lot of the action sequences, it is difficult to determine exactly what is going on.

Bruce Willis is a great choice to play A.K. Waters, and he's always effective, even when he has to deliver amazingly inane lines of dialogue. Monica Bellucci is pretty, and is pretty good. The rest of cast might be good - I don't know, because they're never given anything of worth to do.

The last thirty minutes of the movie are completely and totally unecessary. I have absolutely no idea how the sequence made it past the editing room. In fact, I'm not really sure how the movie made it past conception at all. Don't let the poetic title fool you - Tears of the Sun is pure dreck.

© 2003 Matt Noller