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'Tears' may make audience want to cry

TEARS OF THE SUN — ** — Bruce Willis, Monica Bellucci, Cole Hauser, Eamonn Walker, Paul Francis, Tom Skerritt, Sammi Rotibi, Fionnula Flanagan; rated R (violence, profanity, gore, rap, brief drugs, brief nudity, brief torture); see "Playing at local movie theaters" for complete listing of local theaters.

The title "Tears of the Sun" suggests something completely different than what this film is. It sounds like a drama that should be competing for next year's Academy Awards.

That, however, is a far cry from what the film really is —the latest Bruce Willis action movie. Not only will "Tears" not have a shot at any Oscars, it will probably be long forgotten by then.

In fact, "Tears" could be confused with one of John Wayne's more manipulative and heavy-handed war films if not for its 21st century sensibilities.

For the first hour it's fairly competent and watchable stuff. But then it gets progressively more predictable and manipulative, climaxing with a rah-rah finale that may prompt a few giggles.

The film follows a squad of Navy SEALS, led by Lt. A.K. Waters (Willis). He and his men have been sent into the Nigerian jungle to "extract" physician Lena Kendricks (Monica Bellucci), an American citizen (by marriage), before her clinic is overrun by bloodthirsty Nigerian rebels.

Locating her is easy enough. Getting her to leave her hospital is not. Finally, Waters agrees to take Kendricks and her more mobile patients out of the country. What he's not telling her is that he's under orders to bring her out alone. But when the time comes, he's left with a dilemma — should he obey his orders and abandon the Nigerians? Or should he disobey his superiors and take the good doctor and the Nigerians to the Cameroon border, some 40 miles away?

It's pretty obvious which way this story is going to go, even without viewing the too-revealing trailer. However, to his credit, director Antoine Fuqua makes this nonsense as effective as possible. In the end, however, his efforts are undone by the button-pushing script, which eliminates any gray areas in the soldiers' sense of morality, and which has some nasty racist undertones.

As for Willis, he doesn't have to do much here in the way of acting. Same for Bellucci, whose outfits can best be described as revealing. Still, Cole Hauser does have some effective moments as Waters' right-hand man.

"Tears of the Sun" is rated R for graphic wartime violence (gunfire, stabbings and explosive mayhem), frequent use of strong sex-related profanity, graphic gore, a scene depicting rape, brief drugs (use of a hypodermic and narcotics), flashes of female nudity and a brief scene of torture. Running time: 118 minutes.