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Film review: Black Hawk Down

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After the style-over-substance debacle that was "Pearl Harbor," Jerry Bruckheimer pretty much owed us "Black Hawk Down."

The two war films were both underwritten by berproducer Bruckheimer, but they couldn't be more different. Where the former was a yawn-inducing, by-the-numbers romance (with only a breathtaking war re-creation scene in its favor), the latter is pulse-pounding, action piece, a heavily fictionalized "true story" of U.S. soldiers under fire.

Of course, it helps that "Black Hawk Down" has a more skillful director in charge — Ridley Scott, who's definitely a cut above above "Pearl Harbor's" Michael Bay. (Though, curiously, up-and-comer John Hartnett, heads up the casts for both films.)

Still, there are signs that this is a Bruckheimer film, especially the heavy-handed, 15-minute finale, which practically bludgeons with its jingoistic messages. (Also, be warned: The film is so violent, so gory that at times it makes Scott's "Gladiator" look like a G-rated cartoon.)

The film's title refers to an ill-fated 1998 military action in Somalia, during which U.N. forces attempted to oust warlord Mohamed Farrad Aidid. That mission was supposed to last no longer than three weeks, but a month and a half later, Aidid is nowhere to be found.

Under the command of Maj. Gen. William F. Garrison (Sam Shepard, solid as usual), U.S. forces begin capturing Aidid's men in an effort to get the warlord to surface. Unfortunately, one of these actions takes American soldiers into a heavily armed sector of Mogadishu.

Things quickly go awry, as snipers begin picking off the soldiers — and even shoot down one of the Black Hawk choppers. So it's up to a handful of U.S. Army Rangers — led by Staff Sgt. Matt Eversmann (Hartnett) — to "secure" the copter crash site. It's an almost impossible task, considering there are fewer than a dozen of them, and they're having to hold back hundreds of armed Somalis.

Admittedly, Ken Nolan's script, based on journalist Mark Bowden's nonfiction accounts of the events, is extremely one-sided. (It never even attempts to explain the Somalian side of things, and an explanation of the politics of that region is fairly simplistic.) Fortunately, director Scott keeps the action moving fast enough that many won't notice.

Also, the huge international cast (which includes several Brits and Australian actors playing Americans) is excellent. Hartnett gets the most screen time — though Aussie actor Eric Bana makes a serious bid to steal the film as a tough-as-nails Special Forces sharpshooter (complete with a Texas accent that never wavers).

"Black Hawk Down" is rated R for combat violence (gunfire and explosive mayhem), considerable graphic gore and frequent use of R-rated profanities, crude slang terms and racial epithets. Running time: 143 minutes.

E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com