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TEARS OF THE SUN On the heels of Hart's War, Bruce Willis returns to combat duty in this plodding drama that's about as battle-fatigued as they come. A simplistic story about a heroic Navy SEAL (Willis) who disobeys orders by attempting to save the lives of Nigerian villagers marked for death by rebel extremists, the movie never strives to engage our senses in any pertinent manner -- it's as if the blueprint for the basic outline never left the development table, resulting in a picture that's painted in wide swaths of soldier-boy posturing and pontificating. If anything, Tears of the Sun (a meaningless title, by the way) bears a resemblance to 1999's Three Kings; it's a comparison that does the new film no favors, seeing as how it studiously avoids the complex characterizations and morally muddled politics that drove that earlier film (which looks better with each passing year). Willis, a good actor on those rare occasions when he stirs himself out of his cinematic siestas, delivers a one-note performance that consists of grunts and squints. Like the dreary screen version of Black Hawk Down, this movie may serve as a slick piece of propaganda ("Two Thumbs Up!" -- Dubya & Powell), but it won't satisfy anyone who prefers to be challenged by contemporary military movies.
WILLARD For all its ickiness, Willard is that most exotic of movie creatures: a remake that handily bests the original. The 1971 version, itself based on Stephen Gilbert's novel Ratman's Notebook, may have been a box office hit, but it's also an inert motion picture, taking itself far too seriously as it relates the supposedly poignant tale of a lonely young man (Bruce Davison) whose only friends are the rats that live in his basement. This stylish remake, written and directed by Rob Bowman (a major force on TV's The X-Files), tosses out all pretensions and tackles the material as a pitch-black comedy, which, in retrospect, was clearly the only way to go. As before, Willard Stiles (a perfectly cast Crispin Glover) is a mild-mannered introvert whose relationship with his rodents offers him a brief respite from the unpleasantries that otherwise inundate his existence, from the machinations of a hateful boss (R. Lee Ermey) to the demands of an overbearing mother (Jackie Burroughs, whose ghastly appearance elicited more moviegoer gasps than any of the rats' antics). Nobody can accuse Willard of pandering to audience demands -- the picture looks grungy, Morgan takes his time with the pacing, and the fate of a cute kitty cat will have PETA puking -- but darn if this thing doesn't deliver the goods for folks not averse to an unsettling satire that offers as many nyuks as yuks.
All the Real Girls
: Zooey Deschanel, Paul Schneider.
Basic: John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson.
The Core: Aaron Eckhart, Hilary Swank.
Head of State: Chris Rock, Bernie Mac.