Act of Valor
1 1/2 stars (out of 4)
Considering Act of Valor is, at its heart, a multimillion-dollar U.S. military recruitment video, it’s fitting that the film opens with a commercial message from directors Mike “Mouse” McCoy and Scott Waugh.
They speak earnestly to the camera about the band of brothers they came to know while filming training videos for and with the Navy SEALs, footage they decided to turn into a fiction film with the aid of military might and the American government blessings.
And yes, that’s live ammunition you’re seeing much of the time, they crow.
Except, we have to assume, when bad guys are getting shot squarely in the forehead, depositing a nasty splatter on the wall behind them, which happens a lot in Act of Valor.
The story, penned by 300’s Kurt Johnstad, opens with a terrorist explosion in Indonesia that takes out an American diplomat and a schoolyard full of kids, followed by a SEALs mission to rescue a CIA agent (Roselyn Sanchez).
She’s held captive in the jungle by a family values-touting drug kingpin (Alex Veadov) whose henchman delights in torturing her with a power drill. Turns out he’s a boyhood chum of a Chechnyan Jihadist (Jason Cottle), the same one who blew up the school.
Enter the SEALs, all of whom are given one-name pseudonyms. It’s frustrating to know so little about them — we know one SEAL is about to become a dad, another has five kiddies.
But it’s soon evident this isn’t about the SEALs as individuals; it’s about the brotherhood.
It’s also not about acting; terrorists should be terrified, but Hollywood has nothing to fear from these guys.
Still, it’s an interesting study to watch how they get the captive out, the soldiers silently emerging from beneath a still pond to advance on the compound, using hand signals to target which baddie to pick off next.
And there’s some spectacular footage, including SEALs scurrying into a surfacing submarine mid-ocean and a sequence where a gunboat is lowered into a river from a military helicopter to be boarded by soldiers who slide down ropes, landing with a thud and a cry of “boots on deck!”
It gets the blood pumping but it doesn’t make for a good movie.
McCoy and Waugh, known for commercials and action shorts — one, Tanker Surfing, is about riding the wake of oil tankers in Galveston, Tex. — keep things zipping along.
So while subtleties and pacing are MIA, the filmmakers know how to shoot action and they make the most of it in Act of Valor. Collateral damage takes out the plot, but the SEALs save the day.
Linda Barnard is a syndicated movie critic for the Toronto Star.