Tears of the Sun (15)
The career of Bruce Willis continues to fade as he approaches 50, and subjects like this apologia for America’s gung-ho militaristic right are not what he wants to be tackling if he wants to survive as a superstar.
Tears of the Sun is a hybrid of all-out action flick and quasi-liberal ‘message movie’ in which the morality centres on the change that comes over a squad of automaton-like special forces soldiers when they are told to rescue a doctor from hostile territory during a Nigerian civil war.
Statuesque Italian babe Monica Bellucci is the doctor-cum-missionary tagged as Willis’s ‘package’ when he is ordered to bring her and a handful of nuns to the safety of a US aircraft carrier. What Willis – grim, hatchet-faced, liberally smeared in camouflage paint and carrying what appears to be a minor howitzer as his personal weapon – doesn’t expect is for the good doctor to demand he also save her flock: dozens of sick and injured locals.
Momentarily out-manoeuvred, Willis agrees and evacuates everyone except two missionaries but, on reaching his helicopter rendezvous, takes only the contents of the ‘package’. The rest remain on the ground.
Minutes later, as the choppers skim over the remains of the missionary station, its grounds littered with freshly slaughtered bodies, he orders the pilots to return. He will save the innocents of this bloody and brutal war, or die trying.
Tears of the Sun is a largely nonsensical flag-waver that takes huge chunks of classic films – think The Magnificent Seven crossed with Saving Private Ryan, Zulu and The Mercenaries – and bundles them all into an unwieldy hotchpotch.
The main twist – Willis counter commands his superior, putting the lives of his squad and Bellucci at risk while blazing headlong into a major firefight and thereby causing a massive diplomatic incident – is not remotely believable while the revelation that the doctor’s party contains a secret VIP is both a cipher and red herring.
In the hands of director Antoine Fuqua, who gave us Training Day and The Replacement Killers, the action scenes are, as one would expect, deftly handled and thrillingly delivered. This is gritty stuff, and Willis, underplaying throughout, looks the part, even with his bald pate and greying stubble.
The big question remains how long he can continue to pose as a man of action. Certainly Tears of the Sun is an exciting and acceptable film of its type, but characterisation is lamentably thin, the other soldiers fade into the background and the villains are purely one-dimensional.
Willis can do better than this. How long can it be before he dusts off his vest to head up Die Hard IV?
Star rating: ***