Act of Valor, directed by Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh, isn't quite the Earth shattering movie watching experience that it's been advertised as. It doesn't come off as "authentic," or any more "real" than any other action movie, big or low budget, that appears in movie theatres, on DVD, or on television. What it really is, and likely the reason that it's going to do very well at the box office, is that it's well made, it features good guy characters that you can't help but like, bad guys that you root against, and action scenes that, even when they play a little too long, still kick major ass. In short, it's a well designed crowd pleaser.
The flick stars a group of real life, active duty Navy SEALS essentially playing themselves, or at least somewhat fictionalized versions of themselves. The SEALS that the story focuses on are identified as Rorke (sometimes identified as Mike or Lieutenant), the Chief (deep voiced guy that serves as the narrator of the movie) and Miller, also known as Senior (he's sort of the guy that sets up missions for the various SEAL teams. He also kind of resembles Lee Tergesen). There are other names thrown out but odds are you won't remember any of them (there are young guys on the team, one guy used to be a kickboxer before he became a SEAL. Those are the things I picked up). While you may not know or remember their names/specific identities, you'll notice that, on some level, they're all family. We see them at the beach with their wives and kids, but they seem to spend quite a bit of time with one another. They drink beer together, they talk about their wives and kids (one SEAL is having a kid), and they keep telling one another that if their shit isn't together at home, "squared away" and whatnot, they're going to be a liability "downrange." No matter what, their prime responsibility is to look out for one another.
The plot of the movie basically deals with an Islamic terrorist from Chechnya, Abu Shabal (Jason Cottle), who teams up with noted international smuggler Christo (Alex Veadov), to attack the United States. The SEALS (I believe the SEAL team Rorke, Chief, Senior, and the others are part of SEAL Team 7 here) are after both of them. But before they go directly after both Shabal and Christo, they have to rescue a kidnapped CIA agent, (Lisa Morales, as played by Roselyn Sanchez) and check out some stuff going down in Costa Rica and Somalia. The story ends with a mission on the U.S./Mexico border and what amounts to a final showdown.
The action scenes are about as good as you're bound to see in an action movie that mostly relies on practical, real world special effects. Allegedly the SEALs also used live ammunition in some sequences, which is pretty amazing when you think about it (how did the producers get insurance with people using live ammunition? I mean, yeah, the guys using the live ammo are professionals and all, but they're making a movie and accidents happen on movie sets). There's quite a bit of first person POV stuff, similar to what you see in a video game, and it never gets annoying, even when the movie switches back and forth in the same shot. There's a truck chase that's insane (how the hell did those guys not fall out of the back of the truck?). And the close-up gun battles are as confusing and thrilling as you'd expect them to be. Sometimes you have no idea what the heck is going on, but bodies are dropping, debris and blood are flying, and the bad guys are dead. That's what's most important, right?
The final action sequence in Mexico starts out well but starts to trail off towards the end, mostly because it goes on too long. There's also a neat sequence where we see two SEALs rendezvous with a submarine that doesn't go on long enough (where did the boat go the SEALs used to get to the sub?). My favorite scene in the movie, outside of the carnage in the Philippines (Swift boats kick ass), is a scene aboard a captured yacht where Senior interrogates someone. You'll laugh quite a bit, especially at how Senior enters the yacht (a suit and tie underneath his flight suit).
Now, does the movie have issues? Yes. The movie is probably about ten minutes too long, the "guy reading a letter" narration thing comes off as awkward (there's too much of it), and the villains aren't given enough, for the lack of a better word, motivation to work together. We know that Shabal is a terrorist and he has his "grievances," which are expressed through an internet video, but why does Christo want to work with him? They're allegedly old friends, they went to school as children or something, but is that really why Christo, the sort of secular playboy, decides to work with the religiously insane terrorist Shabal? In the context of the story (remember, this is a movie, not real life) why would Christo go "Yeah, I'll help you," and why would Shabal want to deal with him in the first place since he now drinks alcohol and is surrounded by women in bikinis? The movie really just needs one scene, maybe two, that explains this stuff. This lack of motivation doesn't kill the movie or anything, but it's a glaring hole in the story that's a little too obvious. Maybe there's a deleted scene that explains this stuff more that'll appear in the eventual DVD release. That's what I'm hoping for.
As for the flick's "politics," the movie isn't openly right wing at all, despite what Michael A. Walsh at the New York Post would have you believe. It really is just an action movie. No one gives a political speech (I don't think the letter Chief reads is a call to nationalism or anything like that. It's a call to be a good man), no one says anything remotely close to "My country, right or wrong," and the American flags are, while important, come off as background objects more than objects of worship (Rorke's flag that he carries with him has sentimental value because it was his grandfather's, not because it's an old American flag). The SEALs' job is to complete the mission, regardless of the details. It doesn't matter who the bad guy is. Getting the bad guy isn't a right wing or a left wing objective. And, no, the "In God We Trust" patch on the one pilot's helmet isn't a subtle call for more God in America (at least it doesn't come off as that). That's like saying the people in Aliens worshipped the airline industry because of the pilots in that movie had "fly the friendly skies" on her helmet. It's ridiculous. Think about the "Damn few" speech that you see twice and figure out what it means. That'll tell you what the movie is ultimately about.
The SEALs clearly aren't trained actors and often come off as kind of stiff when they have to spit out plot information, but they have a natural charisma that beams off the screen and you end up liking them and you want to spend time with them. The Senior character is the one that comes off the best as he has the most personality (if he ever decides to leave the Teams maybe he should go to Hollywood and try his hand at acting. He's good enough to make it), but Rorke and Chief handle themselves well. The surfing scene is quite good. And everyone looks great in the action scenes.
The professional actors all do fine work. Roselyn Sanchez does a good job as Lisa Morales, the captured CIA agent. She works well with Nestor Serrano, who shows up Walter Ross, a fellow CIA agent in the Philippines. Jason Cottle plays Shabal as insane, and it works. He probably overdoes it a bit every once in a while, but he's a bad guy and you can do that when you're a bad guy. The great Thomas Rosales Jr. shows up as a sadistic henchman. And Sons of Anarchy fans should be on the lookout for the great Emilio Rivera, who shows up towards the end of the movie and does a good job as a guy that Shabal needs to talk to in order to complete his mission. Imdb claims that Ernie Reyes, Jr. is in the movie but I didn't see him, so, eagle eyed viewers should be on the look out for him, too.
Act of Valor is a good time at the movies. If you're an action movie nerd you should definitely check it out. And if you're not a nerd, you should make an effort to see it anyway. Odds are good that you'll like it. It has that kind of energy.
See Act of Valor as soon as you can. See it, see it, see it.
So what do we have here?
Dead bodies: 20 +
Doobage: Guys jumping out of a perfectly good aircraft, a speeding van, a goofy ice cream vendor, exploding ice cream truck with piles of dead kids (off screen), guys going surfing, Scrabble, bullet to the head, head smashing, glass coffee table breaking, kidnapping via carpet, beer drinking, a sad goodbye, a quick mission briefing, a Jihad video, macho jock banter, more people jumping out of a perfectly good aircraft, silent waling, radio chatter, a swift boat delivery, a small drone, hand drilling, bloody feet, multiple sniper shots, insects, a vicious bullet to the face, a point blank bullet to the head, a quick interrogation, a bad ass truck chase, rocket attack, exploding truck, submarine rendezvous, a yacht assault, a great interrogation, night vision hooey, grenade attack, RPG hooey, RPG rocket the chest, a Mexican commando team, a dump truck attack, exploding door in slow motion, multiple head shots, exploding bomb vest with hot ball bearings, the ultimate sacrifice, a chewed up hand, a sad funeral, a poem, and more surfing.
Kim Richards?: Serious Kim Richards. Shabal is a real bastard.
Gratuitous: Halo jumping, the Philippines, an ice cream truck, British radio reports, exploding ice cream truck with piles of dead kids, Thomas Rosales, Jr., Costa Rica, guys going surfing, Scrabble, beer drinking, a Jihad video, macho jock banter, Swift boat stuff, first person gun POV shots, exploding truck, next generation bomb vests, a submarine rendezvous, hot chicks in bikinis, a yacht assault, night vision stuff, RPG rocket to the chest, U.S./Mexico border, a Mexican commando team, a dump truck surprise, exploding door in slow motion, the ultimate sacrifice, a sad Navy funeral, a poem, and more surfing.
Best lines: "Hey, my man is having a baby," "Daddy, can I come with you?," "I still can't believe you ordered Chinese in this place," "I still like the name James," "How did that feel, Miss Morales? Have a great day at the spa," "It's hotter than two rats screwing a sock out there," "Whiplash, go!," "Keep it tight. Got it," "Roger. You have the package," "You took one to the face! You're a hard motherfucker!," "It wasn't for nothing," "You have a tango on your starboard side!," "You've never seen Star Trek? No. That's insane," "You think this is some kind of game?," "Shit filter's full," "Are you familiar with ceramic ball bearings?," "Good thing that was a dud. I might have gotten hurt," "Grenade!," and "Damn few."
The 411: Act of Valor is a well made action flick. That's what it is. Everything else attributed to it (authenticity, pro-America, realistic) is just advertising. Definitely worth seeing.