Mark Reviews Movies

Act of Valor


1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Directors: Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh

Cast: Alex Veadov, Roselyn Sanchez, Dimiter Marinov

MPAA Rating: R (for strong violence including some torture, and for language)

Running Time: 1:41

Release Date: 2/24/12

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Review by Mark Dujsik | February 23, 2012

The selling point of Act of Valor is that it stars active duty Navy SEALs who spent their downtime in between service making the movie. It's a clever gimmick (Among others, the movie alleges to use live ammunition during certain scenes, which only serves to let us see what big bullets do to empty trucks)—one that, in the right hands, could offer a legitimately fascinating look into the private and professional lives of some of the most elite fighting forces in the world. Screenwriter Kurt Johnstad and directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh are not the right hands.

What we have here is a generic action movie with nary but the smallest traces of genuine humanity, technical proficiency, clear storytelling, or stylistic competence. The mere fact that real SEALs appear in the movie is of little matter when Johnstad's screenplay only sees them as the thinnest of character types who are, ultimately, disposable to help add some weight to sentiments about "warrior's blood" and living without fear of death that constitute the movie's sporadic narration. McCoy and Waugh are no better, spending more time gawking at vehicles (helicopters landing, taking off, dropping off boats, etc.) and equipment (more shots staring down the barrel of an assault rifle than any rational person would care to count, slow-motion tracer rounds piercing the air, a neat remote-controlled plane with a camera, etc.) than the SEALs' actions themselves.

The movie opens with a terrorist attack at a school in the Philippines that leaves multiple children and a US Ambassador dead. Connected to the attack is Karimov (Dimiter Marinov), a Chechen national who has become one of the most dangerous Islamic terrorists in the world. His eventual plan is to smuggle a group of 16 suicide bombers, wearing vests packed with explosives and ball bearings, into the United States through the Mexico border to cause a financial collapse of the US economy because the news media will cover the attacks (There's nothing lucid about religious fanaticism, but Karimov's plan, beyond the specific details and unspoken insinuations being a conspiracy theorist's fantasy, makes even less sense).

Enter the members of SEAL Team 7. Within the movie, they have character names and a brief, accompanying in-screen window that gives information about commendations and other such things (The credits essentially redact their real names). A voice-over from one of the group fills in the mostly insignificant details about each of the eight that passes off as character development.

One is the team's sniper. Another is their radioman. Another was a muay Thai boxer and has a pair of gold teeth. Only Chief Dave and Lt. Rorke have legitimate backstories: Dave is a father of five (We know this because he says so and there's a scene of him and his family on the beach), and Rorke is expecting his first child. Johnstad's dialogue, which tactlessly introduces and iterates exposition, drops like lead balloons. It would be unfair to expect professional actors to make these lines work, and from the mouths of non-professional actors, the rote recitation is particularly monotonous (This is the rarest of occasions when one can say, "Don't quit your day job," and mean it as a compliment).

Of the members of the group that exist to convey plot points, only their leader, a Master Chief, has the chance to show any discernable personality. He has a penchant for pop culture references, and there's an interrogation scene between him and one of Karimov's associates, a drug smuggler named Christo (Alex Veadov) who knows how to get things across the US/Mexico border, that at least has characters talking about things other than the plot.

The plot itself is incidental. The SEAL Team learns about Karimov's plan after rescuing a CIA agent named Morales (Roselyn Sanchez) from Christo's torturous henchmen and try to stop it (The only context for events is the SEAL Team, making it seem as though they make decisions unilaterally; a passing mention of the State Department reminds us otherwise).

It's only an excuse to give the team a series of missions and objectives, and even these relatively straightforward goals (Go here, retrieve that; go there, kill them) become a chore to watch. McCoy and Waugh film the operations without any sense of geography, and the action itself is a blur of muzzle flashes, quick cuts, and gratuitous first-person shots (Think a video game), made even more maddening by cinematographer Shane Hurlbut's digital camera work, which gives the movie the visual aesthetic of a snuff film.

Act of Valor is quite the curio, especially if one takes into the account the heretofore-unmentioned involvement of the Navy in the production. As such, some might consider it as a piece of propaganda or a theatrical military recruitment video. It's not, if only because it's too dull to be effective as such.

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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