Adhering strictly to the usual “guys on a mission” template, “Tears of the Sun” follows Lt. A.K. Waters (Willis) and his crack squad of Navy SEALs on an assignment to extract a certain Dr. Kendricks (Monica Bellucci) from a mission in the Nigerian jungle before troops loyal to the new military dictator overrun it. The doctor, of course, won't go without “her people,” forcing Waters to bring along a ragtag gaggle of Nigerian refugees as well. Not that he has any intention of airlifting them to safety--their orders are to get the doctor, whatever it takes. But, as so often happens in the real world, Waters has a sudden crisis of conscience and turns tail on his orders, sending only the weakest back to ship via helicopter and leading the rest on a harrowing jungle odyssey to reach the border with Cameroon before rebel troops can intercept them.
Director Antoine Fuqua, fresh off his first serious hit with “Training Day,” has an admirably grand vision for the film--though it's ultimately unsustainable in view of the material. Top-tier production values and the actors' chronically stern visages mean to convince the audience that something desperately important is going on. But routine and often illogical plot twists send a different message--that this is merely one of countless and unimaginative Hollywood retreads, albeit one with a conscience.
In bullet-riddled military flicks like “Tears of the Sun,” allegedly a title originally attached to a script for “Die Hard 4,” it's usually acting that takes the first hit. Indeed, Willis and Bellucci do little but dance around the same old set of moral quandaries while their Nigerian charges mostly quiver like frightened bunnies. The SEALs, meanwhile, get to say things like, “Hold the line!” and “Ten-four, that!” A lot. Even the usually reliable Tom Skerritt, in a seeming walk-on from “Top Gun,” is hamstrung by a part that gives him little to do but scream into a phone from the noisy flight deck of a carrier--about as impractical a locale for phone conversation as exists anywhere in the universe.
The film's saving grace, if it has one, is Hans Zimmer's mournful, heartfelt score. Though he borrows heavily from his “Thin Red Line” work, Zimmer's unorthodox choice of music saves the film through subtle counterpoint, offering soul when the film has none, intelligence when it most desperately needs it, heart when it cannot muster any of its own. Starring Bruce Willis, Monica Bellucci, Cole Hauser, Eamonn Walker, Tom Skerritt and Nick Chinlund. Directed by Antoine Fuqua. Written by Alex Lasker & Patrick Cirillo. Produced by Michael Lobell, Arnold Rifkin and Ian Bryce. A Columbia release. Action-Drama. Rated R strong war violence, some brutality and language. Running time: 118 min