Plenty of bang from the bucks but acting's not in the special forces manual
Explosive ... a scene from Act of Valor. Photo: Courtesy of IATM LLC
ACT OF VALOR
Directed by Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh
Written by Kurt Johnstad
Rated MA, 110 minutes
HOLLYWOOD has made several movies about US Navy SEALs, the elite force responsible for the death of Osama bin Laden, but none has ever pleased the SEALs themselves.
It's picky of them, I know, but they don't think Steven Seagal, Bruce Willis or Ice Cube really got it right. Nor did Vin Diesel (The Pacifier) or Demi Moore (G.I. Jane). So this time they're doing it their way. Act of Valor has been tailored to their specifications. They hired the Bandito Brothers, a production company run by former stuntmen Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh, to make a feature film starring serving members of the force. A screenplay was commissioned from Kurt Johnstad, who gained his military experience by condensing the battle of Thermopylae into two hours for the animated blockbuster 300, and they were off.
First up, I should say the bin Laden story is not part of the exercise. It will have to wait for Kathryn Bigelow to overcome the many obstacles she's facing in finishing her version.
This one is a kind of show-reel - what the SEALs did at work while you sat, oblivious and complacent, in front of your computer with your coffee. The action sequences were filmed with live ammunition and tracer bullets together with a full range of combat conveyances, including a nuclear submarine, which we reach by Zodiac boat in mid-ocean, neatly parking on top of it just as it surfaces.
To collate these exploits, Johnstad has strung together a storyline of sorts. It skips from San Diego to Central America, then on to Ukraine and back to Florida, beginning in Puerto Rico, where a CIA agent is murdered by the henchmen of an international arms dealer. They also kidnap a young and beautiful fellow agent (Roselyn Sanchez). Harrowing torture scenes ensue but the SEALs are soon on the case.
At least they are once we get some earnest voice-over out of the way. It expounds on their traditions and virtues as courageous warriors, loyal comrades-in-arms and devoted husbands and fathers. Sadly, acting is not on the list and the family scenes that spell out this description have the unbridled emotion of a Toyota commercial.
Not surprisingly, things pick up once the boys are on the road - or rather, on the road, on the water and in the air. The agent's rescue is a niftily co-ordinated operation in which they attack the arms dealer's hideout in the Central American jungle with pick-up trucks, helicopters, swift boats and enough weaponry to start - or stop - a revolution. As long as they're on the move, it's fairly invigorating - if you can work out who's doing what.
The camerawork and editing equate excitement with constant mobility and cutting. In a sense, it's understandable. The comradely banter that fills the occasional pause suggests the platoon has swallowed a military manual for breakfast.
I'm guessing quite a lot of diplomatic consideration went into choosing the story's chief villain. Arms dealers can spring from just about anywhere but I imagine their clients have to be selected with care if yours is a quasi-official take on the US military's attitude to the war on terrorism. It certainly feels like it, for their chief Mr Evil doesn't fit neatly into any single ethnic group. He's a rogue Russian who's converted to Islam, changed his name and become Abu Shabal, a jihadist. And just to make him even more exotically neutral, he's played by an American, Jason Cottle.
He possesses the most devastating suicide vest invented and the SEALs' efforts to stop him using it in the US involve some of their heaviest hardware. It's a full-velocity performance. But one thing's missing - the spontaneity necessary to persuade you it could happen. Mixing fact and fiction is a risky business. A documentary would have been more honest. And Bruce Willis would have been more convincing.
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