With its use of active duty U.S. Navy Seals instead of actors and its allegedly true to life trappings, it would be far too easy to call Act of Valor out on the carpet for wearing its political leanings on its sleeve. It’s pretty bad, but it never fully becomes a self-serious version of Team America and it just barely eschews becoming Call of Duty: The Movie. It’s earnest, poorly staged jingoism would be more easily overlooked had the film been made by people who actually have a clue how to direct a movie.
The film tells the story of Seal Team 7, an elite U.S. fighting squad designed to take on the military assignments that require complete stealth and carry an intensely high degree of difficult. Instead of telling the story of all 8 members of the team, directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh (also known as the Bandito Brothers) focus mostly on an expectant father and his best friend. (Being as all main cast members are still active duty soldiers, none are given screen credit.) The team first gets brought in to rescue a CIA informant that has been kidnapped in Costa Rica by Chechen Muslim extremists, but they soon learn that once the informant is safe, their globe trotting mission is just beginning as they uncover a plot to bring Muslim Filipino suicide bombers to several major American cities.
You know, when I type that out it looks pretty racist, and this admittedly pure American propaganda in every sense of the word, but the film does go out of its way by the end to deliver a message about respecting people of different faiths. It’s the kind of story Chuck Norris probably would have made with Chuck Zito for Cannon Films back in the day, but this time with even worse acting and sub-Roger Corman direction.
The soldiers chosen for roles in the film are almost uniformly terrible in sequences where they have to emote and pretend that they are playing fictional characters. 1950s filmstrips have more eloquently spoken messages than the hamfisted and botched narration that mars the beginning and end of the film. The best performance is given by the leader of the squad, a master interrogator who honestly seems like the military version of Parks and Recreation‘s Ron Swanson. However, once the “actors” are in their natural habitat and performing missions, the film finally settles into a groove where it at least sounds like a story about men on a mission.
It’s just a shame that McCoy and Waugh aren’t very good directors. There are some battle sequences where I was glad there was some small amount of dialog because I had absolutely no idea what was going on. The pace of the action sequences for the first hour or so of the film isn’t so much frantic as it is nonsensical. Furthermore, stabs at equating war to video gaming with some egregious “first person shooter” sequences look almost as bad as the climactic sequence in Doom. Furthermore, using this unnecessary technique in a film that prides itself on realism feels like a genuine slap in the face to soldiers who do this kind of thing on a daily basis.
The acting never gets better, but McCoy and Waugh right the ship slightly in the final thirty minutes with a siege on a Mexican drug compound that sends the movie off on a high note. Unfortunately, it’s too little, too late. The film should appeal to military enthusiasts interested in learning about the working dynamics of an elite team from the people who know it best. Casual viewers will probably get a few chuckles from the performances and a headache from the ugly cinematography and editing in the early going.
As for the politics, you’re either with it or against it, and I’m going to leave a wide berth on that one. Maybe if the film wasn’t so slight, a critical discussion of the film’s true aims would be a little more intellectually stimulating.