‘Act of Valor’ soars with action, struggles with story

Article Published: Mar. 1, 2012 | Modified: Mar. 1, 2012
‘Act of Valor’ soars with action, struggles with story

A Navy SEAL stars in ‘Act of Valor.’

Let’s put it this way: I’d much rather have a Navy SEAL acting in a movie than an actor – let’s say Nicolas Cage – executing a covert rescue op.

The new military action thriller, “Act of Valor,” is touted as starring active-duty Navy SEALs, while depicting a fictionalized amalgamation of actual SEAL operations.

Those operations are where “Act of Valor” shines, depicting these real-life warriors performing astonishing acts of heroism, albeit recreated for the film. These scenes are tense, taut and a clear step above most action films, as viewers realize these men on screen have actually been in similar situations.

Yet the film seems like an entry in the “Call of Duty” video game series, but with amazing graphics and a gritty sense of realism that can’t be found in any PlayStation (maybe the eventual PlayStation 5).

But it’s the cut scenes, as it were, theatrical moments in video games that come between the action and typically feature characters advancing the plot through dialogue and drama, that fall flat in “Act of Valor.”

The film’s heroes, comprised of active-duty SEALs whose surnames were omitted for security reasons, are perfectly in their element when the film focuses on the battlefield. It’s the dramatic scenes, however, that work to its detriment.

They’re obviously uncomfortable in front of a camera, but writer Kurt Johnstad’s (“300”) feeble screenplay makes for a weak, clichéd storyline with little to no character development, but plenty of narrative predictability.

Fortunately, that predictability is nowhere to be found when the bullets start flying, and our heroes do what they do best: take action.

The story follows a close-knit group of SEALs battling an international terrorist threat. Russian expatriate Christo (Alex Veadov, “We Own the Night” and several “Call of Duty” games), who looks like a cross between Yanni and Tim Roth, is funding the efforts of childhood friend turned jihadist Abu Shabal (Jason Cottle, “Cthulhu”), who’s plotting to smuggle suicide bombers into the U.S. via Mexico.

In piecing together this most nefarious of schemes, the SEALs must first rescue a kidnapped CIA operative (Roselyn Sanchez, TV’s “Without a Trace”), before seeking out Christo and then Shabal’s cell.

The cookie-cutter plot and villains, who’d seem more at home in a 1980s Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, take the backseat to action, which, in this case, is somewhat of a good thing, as drama is scarce.

In watching those so-called cut scenes, you can’t help feeling that stuntmen-turned-directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh (directing their first full-length feature) are putting their cast in an awkward situation, almost cheapening their real-life heroics for the sake of clichéd cinema.

Reportedly, the concept grew from a promotional film McCoy and Waugh shot for the U.S. Navy, featuring active-duty SEALs. This inspired them to make a full-length feature about SEALs and their maneuvers, using active-duty SEALs as advisors. Feeling the SEALs would be better suited for the roles than professional actors, they casted them instead with the Navy’s blessing.

At times, watching “Act of Valor” is like watching someone play a video game, right down to its repeated use of the first-person-shooter point of view.

But whereas those games typically glorify violence, “Act of Valor” portrays it as a necessary means in life or death situations, wisely avoiding the politics of warfare and showing these remarkable soldiers whose “just another day on the job” is anything but.

“Act of Valor,” rated R for strong violence, including some torture, and for language, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone.

For show times, see page 9-B or visit http://www.mountaintimes.com/movies.

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