Arriving just in time for the impending invasion of Iraq, Antoine Fuqua's Tears Of The Sun presents a full-blown fantasy of positive U.S. military intervention overseas, with honorable and heroic soldiers protecting Nigerian refugees from certain slaughter. But it's missing an important disclaimer: None of it actually happened. Along with the loathsome Behind Enemy Lines—which turned on the farfetched premise of Owen Wilson as a one-man army bringing justice to Bosnia—the film continues a disturbing trend of action movies that not only exploit war for visceral thrills, but also try to rewrite history in the process. Though impossible to swallow as truth, this Rambo treatment is equally hard to enjoy as escapism, because the real bloodshed in places like Bosnia and Nigeria gets tossed in with the packs of corn syrup and food coloring. As an apparent prelude to fun, Tears Of The Sun opens with actual newsreel footage of unarmed citizens getting gunned down on the streets of Abuja, a potent garnish for the gruesome make-believe to come. After rebel forces seize the country, assassinating the presidential family, an American special-ops unit led by Bruce Willis is ordered to swoop down and collect the remaining foreign nationals at a missionary, including two nuns, a priest, and a committed young doctor played by Monica Bellucci. In spite of the certain and dreadful fate awaiting those still in the area, Bellucci refuses to evacuate without her patients, so Willis coerces her with the false promise that he and his men will escort her and 70 refugees across the border to Cameroon. Willis pulls off the double-cross, but his strict allegiance to orders and the rules of engagement melt under a crisis of conscience, as the horrors of ethnic cleansing cause him to question the mission and lead the stranded refugees to safety. It took at least six screenwriters to pen Tears Of The Sun, but the thrust of the story isn't particularly complicated: Like a gridiron hero, Willis tries to lead his team on a game-winning drive across the Cameroon goal line, as their more fleet-footed rivals trail in hot pursuit. A few impossible twists are added for the sake of intrigue, but the film mostly settles into a dull stretch of confrontation and repose, unrelieved by the transparent characters or even a little sexual tension. Though touted as Willis' return to action vehicles, the film is cursed by a faux-seriousness that freezes him in his tracks; instead of the wisecracking cowboy of Die Hard, his steely-eyed thug orders a sobbing refugee to "cowboy the fuck up." If only America offered commendations for triumphs on a fabricated battlefield, his performance could win an Oscar and the Congressional Medal Of Honor.
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