Act of Valor
Directed by Mike McCoy, Scott Waugh
Act Of Valor is a Guantanamo warden’s wet dream. First, you’re treated to the HD image of an entire school’s worth of smiling, adorable brown children blown to smithereens. It turns out the bomb was planted by a Chechnyan uber-terrorist, whose childhood best friend “Christo”—a hideous Russian billionaire—funnels money into his pal’s network by selling ex-KGB weapons to drug cartels, picking up favors, babes, and safe houses along the way. Soon a CIA agent (supermodel-hot, naturally) posing as an aid worker is kidnapped and tortured by Christo’s butchers; a money trail leads to a suicide-bomb-vest factory, and, finally, to a busload of reluctant Mexican jihadists hurtling towards the U.S. border. Thusly, America/the world needs saving from this particularly tall order by an elite unit of hardassed Navy SEALs—portrayed here by real, hardassed, active duty Navy SEALs. (One tagline: “A Motion Picture Event Starring Active Duty Navy SEALs.”)
That’s this movie’s gimmick, and its credibility dreams are better realized via military hardware than acting; a joyous subsidy was doubtless handed down by the Pentagon. These guys are brothers, wisecracking buttkickers who don’t waste a moment—whether pounding beers, consoling wives, or framing a pug-faced drug pusher in their crosshairs. They are “men made of boxes”, career compartmentalizers whose water-cooler chitchat starts and stops at how cool it is being a dad. (When they finally slap the cuffs on Christo, one negotiator uses the safety of his teenage daughter as a back-breaking bargaining chip.) Another, in a voiceover letter to a fallen comrade’s son, urges that threats are everywhere, and “the world is draped in camouflage.” There are pitstops in Costa Rica, Ukraine, and a place ID’d onscreen as “Coast of Africa”; you can feel a stubborn aversion to any depiction of American boots touching down in the actual Middle East.
Mostly equating professionalism with heroism, the filmmakers throttle viewers head-first into some brutal combat scenarios without ever conceding any notion of history, policy, moral equivalence, or collateral damage. Nobody gets killed who shouldn’t; every nameless, disposable corpse is one more brick in the path to slo-mo, righteous deterrence. This strain of wish fulfillment is nothing new for us, but Act of Valor clearly aims to top its creepiest antecedents, about on par with Tony Stark’s targeting computer in Iron Man, which algorithmically differentiates between cute Afghani kids and their filthy terrorist neighbors. (And the crowd goes wild!) Obedience of this magnitude, litmus-testing viewers for “respect” above realism, always satisfies itself the same way: with more hanky-waving towards the uniform than the actual guys.
Opens February 24