Review: 'Act of Valor' is an action movie with a gimmick

A soldier takes aim in a scene from "Act of Valor."

Story highlights

  • "Act of Valor" is the latest co-production between Hollywood and the U.S. military
  • The directors claim this is the first time real Navy SEALS have appeared in principal roles
  • The action scenes are choreographed and filmed with a level of coherence

Representing "a new kind of authentic action genre," according to co-director Mike "Mouse" McCoy, or if you prefer, the same old, same old wearing a bright, shining sales gimmick, "Act of Valor" is the latest co-production between Hollywood and the U.S. military. Such partnerships are a propagandistic tradition that go back at least as far as John Wayne and "The Sands of Iwo Jima."

Francis Coppola had to go to the Philippines to get the helicopters he needed for "Apocalypse Now," but "Top Gun," "Transformers" and even "Black Hawk Down" have benefited from the Pentagon's largesse in terms of hardware and expertise.

Still, McCoy and his partner, Scott Waugh, (they style themselves "The Bandito Brothers") might be correct when they claim this is the first time real-life Navy SEALs have appeared (incognito) on camera in the principal roles. And if that isn't realistic enough for you, we're told they used live ammunition in some of the firefights. There's no official word on how many real-life terrorists were harmed in the making of this movie.

In a brief infomercial that serves as a prologue to the main feature, McCoy somehow keeps a straight face as he claims there is no way an actor could reproduce the emotions the real-life SEALs feel whey they leave their wives and ship out on active duty. It's not a very convincing argument -- Mouse, it's called "acting" -- and the thesis goes down in flames more or less every time one of the servicemen opens his mouth. Anonymous guy playing Senior, don't give up the day job!

Too bad the Bandito Brothers' nose for authenticity couldn't sniff out the cliches in the stale, dopey screenplay turned in by "300" scribe Kurt Johnstad. The screenplay is a globe-hopping fantasy perpetuating the fashionable, paranoid myth that Central American drug barons are the natural allies of Jihadi terrorists.

A single squad of SEALs connects the dots between a school bombing in Indonesia, a kidnapping in Costa Rica, covert meetings in the Ukraine and Somalia and suicide bombers tunneling into the United States from Mexico. Everywhere you look, shady foreigners are conspiring against us.

Whatever you make of its reactionary politics, at least the action scenes are choreographed and filmed by Shane Hurlbut with a level of coherence that's become rare in this genre -- even if the elaborate raids and skirmishes look more like a series of war games than actual combat. For a start, all the high-tech toys and gizmos actually work the way they're supposed to.

That goes for the SEALs too of course.

There's no equivalent here to the battle scene in the Afghan war documentary "Restrepo," in which we see even battle-hardened combat troops lose it when one of their comrades takes a lethal hit.

There's nothing equivalent to the Danish war documentary "Armadillo," either, in which we witness European peacekeepers unthinkingly break the Geneva Convention by murdering enemy casualties in the heat of battle; nor the scenes in the Oscar-nominated documentary "To Hell and Back," in which a seriously wounded American vet struggles to get his life back together on home turf.

That kind of authenticity is simply too hardcore for this Mickey Mouse action movie, a recruitment commercial that ultimately does a disservice to the troops by pretending that war is just like a movie -- and not a very good one at that.