Act of Valor | Screen | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Act of Valor

Even Navy SEALs can't rescue this flailing actioner

On land on sea: Navy SEALs on the job
On land on sea: Navy SEALs on the job

Timing is everything. This film, which purports to reveal the heretofore-unknown awesomeness of the Navy's special-forces unit, a.k.a. SEALs, has been in the making for years. But some of Act of Valor's thunder has surely been stolen by the SEALs themselves, who have been making their own headlines snipering pirates, sneaking into Osama bin Laden's house and rescuing folks in Somalia.

If you can't get enough of that sort of derring-do, you may find this docu-actioner from Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh occasionally interesting. It reputedly stars eight active-duty SEALS, and after a clunky preamble, depicts an array of their skills and specialized equipment in a series of loosely connected vignettes. You will see (and semi-experience through helmet-cams): swimming; skulking; shooting (both Hollywood-style fake kills and blasting away with live rounds); parachuting; speeding in trucks; and how to hitch a mid-ocean ride from a super-secret SSGN nuclear submarine. (Some of this will look exactly like a video game, with fake fires and light streaming in artfully broken windows.)

There's not much in the way of a cohesive big-picture narrative. The SEALs are in pursuit of a pair of bad guys, childhood friends from Russia, who together cover an astonishing range of large-scale villainy (pro-Chechen jihadism, Mexican drug cartels, suicide bombing, black-market arms-dealing and political assassination). With much jargon but little explanation, the SEALs bounce from Costa Rica to East Africa to Mexico, seemingly teleporting right into the fray, oblivious to time and space. 

The film is well intentioned in an unquestioning hoo-rah sort of way — and will bang you over the head with those intentions, right up to its hodge-podge of an ending that drains any energy this exercise offered. From start to finish, Act of Valor is an awkward mix of reality and entertainment that compromises both approaches: The silly plot and non-stop action reduces the SEALs to the interchangeable he-men we know from junky Hollywood fare, and attempts to portray these men as "ordinary dudes who do an extraordinary job" crash against the rocks of bad dialogue and clumsy pacing. 

Starring in Act of Valor is the one mission that trips up our heroes. I've little doubt SEALs possess innumerable skills, but among this group, acting isn't one of them. (With all their gear on, it's hard to tell which is which anyhow.) Only one SEAL delivered a riveting non-action scene, when the veteran interrogator known as "Senior" has a mind-game-type sitdown with the bad guy. Now, there's an unarmed SEAL I wouldn't want to meet in a brightly lit room.

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