By Richard von Busack
Happily, the brave and patriotic Navy SEALS who portray brave and patriotic Navy SEALS in Act of Valor aren’t the worst thing about a rotten movie. The way their roles are shaped, they don’t have much personality. This must have been deliberate planning, so they can’t offend anyone.
The chief of them, nicknamed “Senior” is older and bearded. He gets to present a Bill Murrayish note of profanity and sarcasm. And he shows the proper way to interrogate a prisoner: Alex Veadov plays the hairy Slav prisoner in question. Don’t go straight for geni-torture. Just threaten them with long imprisonment, and they sing like Susan Boyle.
Responsible for holding up the good name of the Navy SEALS, the non-pro actors do fine. They look fit, they hit their marks and speak their lines in loud, clear voices. Fording swamps, assuming sniper positions and performing High-Altitude, Low-Opening jumps, they demonstrate guts. And, with one exquisitely predictable exception, they keep those guts on the right side of the uniform. There’s even one dab of soldier humor you can recognize: after seeing a buddy hit with a dud RPG, his friend says “welp, you can check that box.”
B. J. Worth’s unforgettable HALO jump in Tomorrow Never Dies is still the gold standard of HALO jumping. But between the jumps and the stunts and the reportedly live ammo, there is obviously some real-life hazard demonstrated for our amusement. Your tax dollars at work.
The SEALS’ work is cut out for them. The terrorists are everywhere here. They’re in the Ukraine. They listening to depressing classical music scraped on a bull-fiddle as they sweatshop up exploding vests which will “make 9/11 look like a walk in the park! In Central Park!”
The plot is the jihad of a bug-eyed Islamaniac scarface who is organizing a fleet of suicide bombings. In a demonstration not just of contempt for the intelligence of the audience, but for the resilience of the American people, it’s said his small squad of suicide bombers will completely break the nerve and destroy the economy of the west. It’ll also make Hiroshima look like a firecracker, and make the Apocalypse look like a vicar’s tea party, and make the Big Bang look like a Girl Scout cookie sale.
The interwoven terrorist org, for some reason not called S.K.U.L.L.F.U.C.K. or something cool like that, encompasses Columbian guerillas, drug runners and Philipino Moslems. Got your kidnapper and your exploding Manila ice cream trucks (Children’s ice cream, Mandrake!). They’ll be sauntering in through tunnels in Mexicali in which illegals “can disappear like ghosts.”
So our elite troops hit some thrifty targets to stave of the worst. They shoot up a jacked up old factory building in what looked like San Bernardino. I’ve seen paintball wars staged with more care. And they also raid a Mexican beach village: note, please, fruit cart left out overnight—not a good policy in a poor village. The collateral damage must be in the hundreds. The assaults are chopped like crazy. Are you a cyclone fence standing in the way of a truck? If so, you, the cyclone fence, will get your own separate POV shot of what it looks like to be hit.
The script by Kurt Johnstad (credited, or as they say, debited, with the script for 300) befits Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh’s POV-heavy chunk of regurgitated gamer-crap. The stateside footage, where we would have got to know the characters in a real film, looks like someone making a home movie imitating Michael Bay. All there was budget for was a beach campfire where the men toast each other with Coca-cola bottles and walk in slow-mo in front of the surf.
Because females have no valor, the film is nearly woman-free. We have A: three seconds of three furniture girls sunning their midriffs on the deck of a terrorist yacht, B: a pregnant wife with no lines worth remembering, and C: a female Navy officer, also not really identified, who functions like Galaxy Quest’s Lt. Tawny Madison, explaining international matters that seem to go way beyond the paygrade of the SEALS.
D: is the biggest female part: this goes to Roselyn Sanchez, as a CIA agent who has to be “hot-extracted” from a tin-roofed dungeon in Costa Rica. She sports very accurate looking broken-cheekbone make up as she’s tortured in various ways. The saliva-rich heavy breathing of the directors is all but audible during these scenes of abuse.
The only thread holding Act of Valor together is a long voice-over letter from an elder warrior to a boy child: “this is the blood that courses in your veins…your father was my boss and I was his chief.” The letter starts with the story of an old man’s regret that no one found him dangerous anymore…as if being feared was the highest virtue of them all.
Eventually, the pluralistic get a little wishbone thrown to them, in a passage from a speech credited to Shawnee chief Tecumseh: “Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours...” Too late. By that point, as the Bill Murrayish senior officer says, “Shit filter’s full.”
Our nation survived The Green Berets (1967), though this film is far worse and there’s no John Wayne in it either. Back then was one of the last times there was such military/entertainment-business synergy strategy stimulated by an unpopular war. And yet Act of Valor strikes me as a dangerous: a wet dream of killshots, medallion-encrusted coffins, and hairy foreign terrorists. How could you be a tumescent fan of this movie and not be ready, willing and able to do anything a man in uniform told you to do? There’s no room for civilians in this fantasy vision of a world at endless war. Get ready to take your orders.