Act Of Valor
No doubt before the weekend is out there will be right wing pundits extolling the virtues of "Act of Valor," the docudrama that uses real Navy SEALS in telling a story of America’s war on terror.
But don’t expect many film critics to do so.
Not that there’s anything terribly wrong with the film, which plays like a slick recruitment informercial for the elite military group. It falls in the tradition of well-meaning propaganda that Hollywood produces, most notably during the Second World War when the studios worked in conjunction with the Office of War Information in producing films that would promote the war effort.
Since then, though, war movies have often been more textured - heroism mixed with human frailties; most recently with "The Hurt Locker," which suggested that participating in a war was something akin to an addiction - the last refuge of an adrenaline junkie.
There’s no such nuance in "Act of Valor," which was developed by Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh (known as the "Bandito Brothers"), who had been hired by the military to make recruitment commercials, but came up with the idea of expanding their work into a feature length film. Their idea was to use actually Navy SEALS in developing the story and to play themselves in the final product.
Enlisting the help of screenwriter Kurt Johnstad, who had written the Spartan epic "300," McCoy and Waugh came up with a story that jump-cuts from one terror hot spot to another with lightning speed. One minute the film recreates a terrorist attack in the Philippines, the next it is in a munitions factory in the Ukraine, moments later on a wind-swept runway in Somalia.
What pretty much stays the same is the earnest acting and hackneyed script, which would have been better put to use as the basis of a video game. Note to the Navy SEALS in the film: don’t quit your day job.
The story has something to do with a kidnapping in Central America of a CIA agent, which somehow is traced to a Russian drug kingpin and his nefarious cohort - a very determined terrorist with anger issues and a willingness to send young, Filipino women to their doom as suicide bombers.
Using the advance technology that would be right at home in a video game, the SEALS blow away their adversaries with little payback, that is until the final moments when one of them falls on a grenade to save his comrades. Not that this comes as much of a surprise: the film’s treacle-like narration pretty much sets the character up for doom at the onset.
This comes after a number of competent action sequences: early on there’s an effective one where the SEALS rescue a female CIA agent; later a Mexican terrorist cell is also leveled with cinematic bravado worthy of a John Wayne movie.
The film ends in a pitch battle in tunnels along the Mexican borders as terrorists wearing exploding vests (seen in slo-mo) attempt to cross-over to create havoc in American cities. It’s all rather simple-minded and jingoistic - a combination that may just succeed in the film’s ultimate goal as a recruitment tool.
It also may just turn up as a talking point in the news cycle; but will likely be the kind of movie whose relative artistic merits, lean as they are, will be ignored in favor of its patriotic message. Here’s a film that Fox News will likely plug at every opportunity and find criticism of it to be representative of the evil news media.
No amount of spin though can hide the fact that "Act of Valor" is like a Michael Bay movie made by committee - amateurishly acted, clumsily thrown together and expressing the simplistic message of a country anthem. There’s nothing wrong with hot guys in fatigues, but, please, next time, let them come from central casting.
Act of Valor
Agent Morales :: Roselyn Sanchez
Abu Shabal :: Jason Cottle
Christo :: Alex Veadov
Walter Ross :: Nestor Serrano
Lt. Rorke's Wife :: Alisa Marshall
Commander Pedros :: Gonzalo Menendez
Sanchez :: Emilio Rivera
Kerimov :: Dimiter Marinov
Themselves :: U.S. SEALs
Producer, Mike McCoy; Film Editor, Scott Waugh; Screenwriter, Kurt Johnstad; Executive Producer, Michael Mailis; Executive Producer, Bert Ellis; Executive Producer, Benjamin Statler; Executive Producer, Lance Sloane; Executive Producer, Ryan Kavanaugh; Executive Producer, Tucker Tooley; Executive Producer, Jason Colbeck; Executive Producer, Jason Clark; Executive Producer, Jay Pollak; Executive Producer, Max Leitman; Cinematographer, Shane Hurlbut; Film Editor, Michael Tronick; Production Design, John Zachary; Original Music, Nathan Furst; Casting, Nancy Nayor.