Reviewed by Ian Forbes, Sobering Conclusion
Make no mistake. I support the troops. Their service and skills are appreciated. However, while Navy SEALs may be able to take out Osama Bin Laden and make it look as easy as a trip to the grocery store, there is one activity that they’ll need to drill a lot more on in order to get it right: acting.
Act of Valor is being marketed heavily as being super duper special because it features active duty Navy SEALs portraying the main characters. This works fantastically for the military maneuvers. In fact, the first action scene involving a rescue attempt in Costa Rica is one of the best I’ve seen in a while. The subsequent firefights are also good, though they begin to look like recruiting videos shot on a flip cam or Call of Duty cut scenes; and less like whoever was behind the camera did this for a living (this goes for the editor and cinematographer as well).
Where the film falls short is in letting any of these SEALs read from the
SOCOM fan fiction script. Speaking of which, Kurt Johnstad is responsible for penning those words. He also wrote 300 so … well … umm … I think we can all agree dialogue isn’t his strong suit.
Delivering those terrible lines is also a problem, as I spent most of the opening third of the movie stifling laughter and/or wishing the film’s budget had allowed for a script supervisor. There’s no disrespect intended for the SEALs. They’re not supposed to be able to act, they’re supposed to be able to execute missions and perform their duties. So when something as simple as a discussion between two team members at a bar looks like a bad high school theater production, I don’t blame the “actors”, I blame the filmmakers.
To that point, before the movie begins, there’s a few minutes of back story given by the directors directly to the audience as to how they came up with the concept (It’s the DVD extra no one wanted to see! Hooray!). Their rationale was that no actor could pull off portraying a Navy SEAL. Charlie Sheen aside, what they should have also realized is real military personnel might not be able to act. It’s more reminiscent of the type of high drama and superb acting that gamers were treated to in the Command & Conquer: Red Alert series with Kari Wuhrer and Udo Kier.
The story too is your typical “terrorists hate America, elite special forces will stop them in the nick of time” deal. Characters are painted in true extremes, leaving no gray area for who’s wearing which color hat. The decision to use voiceover and foreshadow events with the subtlety of a sledgehammer to the groin was disappointing … but again, who’s really expecting much here? The setup and execution of the action is the lone bright spot, unless you’re like me and enjoy laughing hysterically at the terrible dialogue and line reads.
It’s doubtful most audiences even expect competent acting performances or a halfway decent story. They probably just want to see what kind of action can be delivered when true professionals are allowed to handle live ammo and rely on real-life training to get it done. That’s the only true success of the film, and if that’s all you’re looking for, then by all means check out what’s on offer here. Act of Valor is by no means a good film but it delivers what’s being offered, for the most part.
Act of Valor hits theaters on February 24, 2012 and is rated R for strong violence including some torture, and for language.