SEALs foil plot, and vice versa
By Mark Jenkins
Friday, Feb. 24, 2012
Military reality and video-game fantasy shake hands and come out fighting in "Act of Valor," an action flick that stars actual Navy SEALs. The exercises are genuine, and so is the hardware. But the script undermines the sense of authenticity at every turn.
Conceived as a recruitment film, "Act of Valor" was directed by TV-commercial veterans (and former stuntmen) Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh. Because the movie wasn't originally supposed to be a commercial feature, the filmmakers got unprecedented access to guns, choppers, submarines and other expensive gear. This enabled them to make a blockbuster-size movie for about $12 million.
The action begins immediately, with a training jump near San Diego. But screenwriter Kurt Johnstad (who toiled on "300") is already sketching the back story. Rorke is the son of a military man for whom "being dangerous was sacred." (There are many lines like that.) Also, he's about to learn that his wife is pregnant with their first child.
Rorke is the real first name of the SEAL who plays the movie's central character. (None of the SEALs' surnames are revealed.) He's clearly not trained in delivering dialogue or expressing emotion. Yet the stiffness of the Navy men's performances is less of a problem than the global-
conspiracy plot that's about to commence.
In Costa Rica, a CIA agent is posing as a doctor while observing an international drug and arms smuggler. Her cover is blown, and she's captured and tortured. Soon, the SEAL team arrives for the rescue.
But their work has just begun. The smuggler is a Ukrainian Jew who grew up with a Chechen Muslim who has become a terrorist. The dealer is helping the terrorist smuggle a group of Filipinos into the United States from Mexico. They're suicide bombers, outfitted with explosive vests that supposedly can't be detected. The SEALs must follow the group all the way to the final shootout.
This is where the movie enters "Mission: Impossible" territory. In real life, SEALs handle individual missions. But this movie turns them into a squad of indispensable Ethan Hunts, hopping the globe to foil supervillains, and following the tidy plot to its bloody conclusion.
Like most recent action movies, "Act of Valor" is fast, loud and strenuously over-edited. The filmmakers successfully conjure a chaotic, you-are-there sensation. Exactly what's happening, however, can be hard to follow.
While the SEAL raid that eliminated Osama bin Laden hadn't occurred when this project began, reconstructing a single assignment like that would have made for a better, and more believable, movie. "Act of Valor" is gripping when it focuses on procedural details. But whenever the movie goes Hollywood, its celebration of steely competence softens into macho sentimentality.
Contains strong violence, including torture and profanity.