Act of Valor Directed by: Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh Cast: Active Duty Navy SEALs, Jason Cottle, Alex Veadov Running Time: 1 hr 51 mins Rating: R Release Date: February 24, 2012
PLOT: A group of Navy SEALS try to stop a terrorist cell led by a radical named Shabal (Cottle) and funded by his childhood friend (Veadov).
WHO'S IT FOR?: I won't get political with this section, but the division seems pretty clear. If you think watching real SEALs play around in the structure of a generic action movie sounds cool, then you might enjoy Act of Valor for its simple pleasures. If that doesn't sound like your fare, don't even bother. Anybody who heavily enjoys video games like "Call of Duty" will be stuck somewhere in between both camps, unsure as whether to see this as a recruitment video, dumb fun, or both.
EXPECTATIONS: Going into Act of Valor I had avoided all trailers and previews. I didn't want to know what to really expect from a potentially heroic movie that actually uses, as they are billed, "Active Duty Navy SEALs." With this small nugget of intel I did worry about the idea of these soldiers acting. Could the Hollywood powers that be pick guys who can both shoot a real gun, and deliver a genuine line? And of course, as this one is being released on the weekend of the Oscars, I wondered if this would be like War Horse but for humans ... or even worse, idiots.
Active Duty Navy SEALs as Navy SEALs: The concept of wasting their time with such a movie is a valiant concept, but their mission to believably act is a large failure. There are other real SEALs, but we aren't told to care about them; they just fulfill racial demographics, that's it. Interactions between the SEALs, (especially Rorke and his friend) are annoying pace-killing moments of fluffy fraternity. The two men struggle through flat-lining line delivery, and make every moment that doesn't involve "real acts of valor" seem incredibly hokey. Their "acting" is certainly at the expectation level of a commercial, but with Act of Valor's length and the millions of dollars in its budget, it's still trying to be a movie. At the very, very least, these guys make me appreciate the thespian work of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson even more. Score: 3
Jason Cottle as Castro and Alex Veadov as Shabal: Compared to other movie bad guys who are assembled with similar plastic parts, these two villains are actually slightly menacing. Act of Valor makes a point to really grind in their evilness to American audiences - it's not a coincidence that these men remind us of uber-enemies Saddam and Osama, albeit in a cartoonish form. They especially keep that cartoonish title when used as propaganda to touch our American nerves on topics like illegal immigrants, suicide bombers, and the defeat of metal detectors. Score: 4
TALKING: In a movie overflowing with stalwart testosterone, Act of Valor still uses many silly lines that stand as unintentional comic relief. When talking about a lead bad guy, a leading military man awkwardly utters, "He pulled a Roman Polanski on my ass and disappeared." The film's lazy concept of framing the narrative with a voiceover provides a wealth of corny tough guy patriotic poetry, with statements like, "There's threats everywhere, and the world is draped in camo." Act of Valor is the type of movie that wants to be quoted in Facebook statuses, and it seems bound to get that treatment - for kind of good, and for very bad. Score: 4
SIGHTS: Act of Valor tries to show some grit by using wild camera work, and it only works in pieces. The usage the first person perspective during combat is not a wise one, especially when it is awkwardly referred back to in brief shots. (The shot, as used in many video games, looks better with a longer running time.) Act of Valor also fails to steal this shot from video games, using it grossly to provide ugly to its ultimate fantasy. As for the action, Act of Valor has a couple decent scenes of good guys shooting back at bad guys, and vice versa. Though such sequences use real SEALs, the violence is captured with a more fantastical eye than a realistic one. Score: 4
SOUNDS: While there is great potential for a loaded soundtrack to accompany its every stale beat, this movie dodges the obvious Kid Rock army commercial comparisons by using just one song, and it's "For You" by Australian country singer Keith Urban. The Act of Valor score uses typical music cues, extinguishing certain moments of their tension due to blatant obviousness. Score: 3
BEST SCENE: It seemed universal with my screening audience that the interaction between Christo and the American slim Zach Galifianakis lookalike on Cristo's yacht was the best scene. It was slightly amusing, it actually had charisma, and it didn't kid itself about its bland action movie roots. This is indeed a cliche moment for the genre, but it's still refreshing from the rest of the slop in Act of Valor.
ENDING: The only soldier we are made to really care about is immortalized by his heroism. "America, F**k Yeah" from Team America: World Police doesn't play during the credits.
QUESTIONS: Who decided to put that DVD extra of an explanation scene before the beginning of the film? Or is that only in the advanced screenings? And did they really use live fire? When? In general, why do concepts of patriotism have to be spoiled by such cheese? Couldn't this also p*ss some people off, because it turns real loss and pain into an inept fantasy?
REWATCHABILITY: Seeing Act of Valor again could never feel like the first time. Now that I know just how generic this thing is, it'll just be another stupid action movie. And when it comes to stupid action movies, I prefer mine with extra ridiculous. Even John Cena's hokey The Marine has more replay value than Act of Valor.
Packaged like a can of Spam, Act of Valor is manufactured to satiate patriotic hunger, but it's just another piece of dumb meat. If it didn't have legit American soldiers at the forefront, this movie wouldn't even exist by today's mainstream standards. It's too generic, even for the same tastes that keep Jason Statham and Adam Sandler on multiplex marquees year after year.
Act of Valor makes the fight to receive an honest depiction of active valor seem all the more impossible to win. It takes the ideas of a documentary (real SEALs!) puts it in a very bland action movie narrative, and shoots such moments like video games. With this awkward sense of fantasy reality, even the most true of sequences is distractingly questioned throughout. Despite its anxious desire for legitimacy, Act of Valor commands for a true perspective of what is real, instead of looking like it manipulates real servicemen and women to be Team America soldiers with invisible strings.
FINAL SCORE: 3/10