Act of Valor Movie Review
Kind of lame, but at the same time kind of awesome.
I have been looking forward to this film, mainly due to the trailers being really kick ass. They made it look like the kind of realistic action we never get to see in movies these days where the standard formula is one guy capable of taking on and killing wave after wave of evil henchmen, beating them all the death with the spine of the first no’er-do-well to cross his path. In this movie the good guys, while highly trained and extremely professional, are not bullet proof and are fully capable of being killed, which in a great way makes the action really, really good. The action scenes are shot and edited in a way that really puts you in the scene, and you feel honest to goodness excitement as each mission progresses.
I also wanted to see this as I, like most Americans these days, have a ton of respect for the military men and women of our country in general and of the SEALs in particular and hoped this movie would show their bravery and dedication, which for the most part it did. This film played out like a Navy recruitment film, and like Top Gun did back in 1986 and they should see a nice surge of recruits over the next few months. Since this film was innitiated not in Hollywood but by the Pentagon PR office, I guess this all makes sense. So in part I was very happy and satisfied with the film.
That being said, the first mission the SEAL team should have gone on was to take out script writer Kurt Johnson (300, the Last Photograph, True Vengence, although this film is his only story writing credit, and probably his last) as the script and story was some of the most half assed, hackneyed, cliche garbage I have ever seen. Honestly, the Pentagon should have farmed this idea out to an established studio as the amateurish stench wafts from the screen like they store dead fish behind it. The cartoonish main villain (Jason Cottle-Wag the Dog, the Wedding Singer, Cthulu (Miskatonic U image courtesy of the Funny T Shirt category)) seems to be evil just for the sake of being evil, starting the movie off with a horrific act of terrorism (by the way, this movie earns its R rating the hard way) but without a shred of explanation as to why except for the fact that he is pissed about something. It is implied that he is against America for occupying Islamic countries, but since he is Chechnyan I had a hard time seeing the connection. I’m sure the motivation makes total sense to guys in the Pentagon privy to inside information about possible terrorist connections, but honestly I think the average American needs to see a motivation slightly more complex than “I want to blow stuff up because I am angry and have a scar on face”. Also, if you are like me be be sure to play the “Guess who’s going to die on the last mission” game. You won’t find it terribly challenging.
The entire story reads less like a movie and a lot more like the plot a first person shooter video game such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, with each hot action sequence being connected by only the most tenuous and and roundabout connections. Again, I am sure if I were more familiar with top secret Intelligence community tactics and deductive reasoning I might have been better able to understand how they moved from some third world village (still not sure what country that one was) to assaulting a multi million dollar yacht. The plot was pretty much obligatory and included apparently under protest only to connect the assorted action scenes showing the SEAL team in action. Also, while I don’t want to be the one to call out the rampant xenophobia in this plot, it seemed like we were attacking pretty much every Third World country EXCEPT Arab countries. Somehow the scriptwriters, in an attempt to not alienate the countries known for actively supporting terrorism, managed to find excuses for the SEALs to fight against people in the Philippines, Mexico, West Africa, Russia, Chechnya, and some other ill defined country. The underlying message of the film seems to be “If you aren’t American you suck” and that message is delivered with bullets.
As for the real life active duty SEAL team members staring in this film, let me say that while I have never ending admiration for their bravery, dedication, and skill they were not recruited by the Navy for their acting ability. Every scene that did not involved them shooting someone or sitting in a briefing room going over a mission to shoot someone felt like everyone was acting while covered in (and had their mouths full of) slowly hardening Elmer’s Glue. I actually hold both them and the director blameless for this, as they all had to work with what they were given. The problem arises when the non-SEAL team characters show up and interact with them. They were all played by professional actors and the disparity in delivery made it seem like I was watching Citizen Cain spliced together with Plan 9 From Outer Space. The acting from the professional actors was what I would have called fairly mediocre in another film, but by comparison it seemed Oscar worthy.
Anyway, the story. Again, if you have ever played a modern FPS video game you have seen it. I don’t even feel the need to get into the details. SEAL Team 7 bounces from country to country rescuing kidnapped CIA agents, trying to capture known terrorist, and stopping terrorists from blowing up Las Vegas. The main terrorist is the Chechnyan turned Muslim Muhammad Abu Shabal (Jason Cottle). He is supported by his childhood friend, Russian gangster and blatantly stereotyped (as the avaricious Jew) Christo and a gang of Philippino suicide bombers (???). Their hobbies include blowing up schoolchildren and torturing women, so obviously the writers felt OK with topsoil level character depth. There is a subplot about one of the SEAL team’s wife about to have a baby, and some social interactive social scenes between the SEALs that will make you wish you actually were playing a video game. The entirely of the plot really only serves to move us from (really freaking good) action scene to action scene.
The stars. The action was unbelievably good and brought a level of excitement entirely missing form most mainstream movies. Three stars. It was interesting as hell to see how the SEALs operate, and since this movie was made by the military and stared real SEALs I can only assume it was 100% accurate. Two stars. I like a movie that doesn’t hesitate to show good guys eating bullets too. All the best heroes are mortal. One star. They didn’t dumb things down for the audience and over explain things. They kept the military jargon and operational tactics real and didn’t bother to explain what was going on the lame civilians such as I, which actually made the movie more interesting and made me pay more attention (what the hell is a QRF? Some kind of vehicle designation?). One star. Overall a lot of fun to watch. Two stars. Total: nine stars.
The black holes. Acting so wooden it might have been delivered by Disney Animatronics. One black hole. A story plot that looked like it had been ripped off from any number of other weak plots and then dashed down on a roll of toilet paper in a mens room while the writer was dealing with an extended bout of diarrhea. Two black holes. Very weak character motivation and depth. One black hole. Xenophobia that was kind of embarrassing. One black hole. Total: five black holes.
A total of four stars. Not bad, really. This movie sells itself on the action and so, if you are an action person, or like realistic movies about elite soldiers, or are just into the military, then by all means see this film on the biggest screen you can find. If you aren’t into those things then odds are you will be OK waiting for NetFlix. Definitely not a good date movie, as there is not a lot of meat here for the average woman and some of the scenes that earned the R rating will really put her off her feed, if you know what I mean.
Thanks for reading. I have a tournament coming up next weekend and have hit that horrible point where I suddenly realize I need to get four more figures painted, so that will be most of my weekend. I will try to see Wanderlust tonight and review it tomorrow morning, although already I am bitter about that film as I heard Jennifer Aniston shot a nude scene and at the last minute made them take it out. Boo, I say. If I have time tomorrow I will see Gone, but for some reason my early warning suck radar is blaring at me on that one. Follow me on Twitter @NerdKungFu. I don’t post a lot, so you know each one is a gem. Feel free to post a comment here or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have specific suggestion or questions. Have a great day. Talk to you soon.