Tears of the Sun

“Tears of the Sun” is only disappointing if you have the unreasonable expectation of movies being original. If you have accepted that there are few new stories in Hollywood, or even old stories being told in new ways, then you have accepted the mediocrity that awaits you in this grim, inconsequential action drama.

Bruce Willis, shiny-headed and somber-looking — he smiles exactly once in this film, sort of, in the final two minutes — plays Lt. Waters, the leader of a military squad sent into Nigeria to save an American doctor, two nuns and a priest from the bloodthirsty rebels who, having effected a coup, will surely descend upon their hospital/mission any day now.

The doctor, Lena Hendricks (Monica Bellucci), stoically refuses to leave without taking all 70 patients and refugees, too. No dice, Waters says. His orders are to take her and the clergy. There isn’t room on the helicopter for 70 refugees. So let’s walk to the Cameroon border, Lena insists. Fine, Waters tells her, his mouth a thin line, his brows furrowed, his glare intense.

Willis glares intensely a lot in this movie, always serious, never smirking. Once or twice he utters a line that sounds like the ultra-cool world-saver he was in the “Die Hard” films, but mostly he and his compatriots take the proceedings extremely seriously. I kept picturing little boys playing army, barking out lines they’ve heard in war movies about “establishing a perimeter” and “rendezvousing at the L.Z.” without actually knowing what any of it means, other than that war is awesome and scary.

As Waters, Hendricks, a handful of soldiers and a procession of Nigerian refugees trek through the jungle, there is a frustrating feeling of familiarity. Save for one mild twist in the action half-way through, there is precious little in the story or its outcome that is not easily foreseen from the get-go. Some characters will die, the important ones will live — this is not the sort of film that will challenge or surprise its audience. You can tell by the dialogue that no one was trying to accomplish anything new here:

“Thank you for saving my life,” Lena tells Waters.

“It wasn’t about saving your life. It was about getting the job done, that’s all,” he growls back at her.

The director is Antoine Fuqua, whose last film, “Training Day,” showed the dangers of a different jungle, Los Angeles. This project is ambitious, and he is up to the task, but he is limited by Alex Lasker and Patrick Cirillo’s unimaginative script. It’s a rote piece of work that thinks having Waters break a couple of rules makes him a dark anti-hero, when in fact it just makes him like all the heroes of all the other movies.

C (2 hrs., 1 min.; R, a lot of harsh profanity, a lot of combat violence, fleeting nudity.)