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DISCLAIMER: No Navy SEALs were harmed during the making of this picture.

The Navy granted “filmmakers” Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh permission to play with their toys and the result is a gung-ho recruitment film that’s as incompetently acted and slapped together as it is propagandistic.

A team of SEALs undertake a covert mission to rescue a kidnapped CIA agent/damsel in distress. (The story is simplicity personified, so as not to challenge the audience.) The directors are swift to differentiate between right and wrong. Shackled girl operative, good; foreigner putting a drill through her hand, bad.

The opening scene, detailing the assassination of an ambassador, sets the tone of imbecility that’s to follow. A sorbet truck pulls into a local schoolyard just as the final bell sounds. The ambassador picks up his son and right before they get into the car, the boy begs dad for a frozen treat. Did the bad guys know in advance the kid would insist on ice cream? If the two drove off, would the thugs have kept showing up every day until the kid cried for a treat? What am I saying? This is a film that cares more about condoning combat than it does narrative cohesion.

All of the stunts are performed by active duty Navy SEALs. As actors, these boys make top-notch stuntmen. Who wants to watch a film populated by a bunch of Hal Needhams? The only legitimate actor whose face rang a bell was Nestor Serrano (The Day After Tomorrow, Secretariat), and they kill him off 10 minutes into the picture.

We are offered a rare glimpse of a combatant's softer side. The government-sanctioned killing machine confides, “The only thing better than going to war is being a dad.” If Ralphie’s pop in A Christmas Story gave his kid a Daisy rifle, one can only imagine the arsenal papa SEAL left under the tree for his pup.

One of the films major selling points is the filmmakers’ use of live ammo for some of the more intense action sequences. I’m all for verisimilitude, but when the performances are this cardboard, rubber bullets would hardly have distracted from the proceedings.

One character makes it clear: there is no room for sympathy in war. President Obama finally put an end to Operation Free Iraq. This is not a time in America’s history for a sympathetic depiction of combat that makes racial profiling look “cool.”

If the two former stuntmen could direct as well as they fight, the film would kill. Instead we are asked to cheer on a fear-inducing, “shoot now, figure it out later” video game made by and for testosterone-fueled war lovers.

It’s barely March, but mark my words: this will rank high on my list of 2012’s worst.

Reader Rating: Zero Stars

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Comments

David Elliott Feb. 24, 2012 @ 3:34 p.m.

It was an act of some valor for you to review this. These used to be called "service pictures," the crowning definition and deflation of the genre being John Wayne's "The Green Berets," with red-clay Georgia subbing for tropical Vietnam. The campaign name Operation Iraqi Freedom was sadly never changed to Operation Interminable Agony. After the White House had done its worst, so many brave souls gave their best.

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Scott Marks Feb. 24, 2012 @ 5:13 p.m.

This is one grenade I jumped on for the team.

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artansert Feb. 26, 2012 @ 5:09 a.m.

the review from Scott seems to be plagarised from some UK comments that I saw last week - the following is a more accurate review from ed morrissey Americans love military and action films, as box office returns show. But what if filmmakers eschewed ridiculous plot lines for actual missions fought by American commandos, along with realistic depictions of terrorism, violence, and weapons fire? And what if most of the actors on screen aren’t actors at all, but actual Navy SEALs? Act of Valor tells those stories and uses those fighting men — and the result is an excellent action movie that keeps viewers riveted to the action until the very end.

The film opens in cross cuts between a SEAL team on leave and a CIA operative who gets captured in Costa Rica after she tracks down a Russian drug smuggler — and discovers that he’s also facilitating for a Chechen Islamist terrorist group, which just conducted a successful attack on a school in the Philippines. The SEALs think their mission is over until their commander gets intel from a phone captured during the rescue and discovers that the Chechen terrorist leader has plans to attack inside the US, using suicide-bomb vests that can defeat any metal detector. Can the SEALs stop the group from infiltrating through Mexico and wreaking havoc and mayhem inside the US?

Act of Valor turned out to be surprisingly entertaining, and very well made. The production qualities are excellent, and it uses some familiar quick-cut techniques in the battle scenes that enhance the action, but otherwise uses traditional approaches in cinematography. The sea chase scenes are especially good, but nothing beats the depictions of close-in fighting interspersed throughout the film. I have a friend who has served in the SEALs for decades, and he once told us Tears of the Sun (an excellent film) came closest to depicting how SEALs work in real life. I suspect that this will move to the top of his list. see next post

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Scott Marks Feb. 26, 2012 @ 1:54 p.m.

Creedmoor is calling. The only thing the 2 reviews have in common are the terms "The opening scene" and "The film opens." WOW! Didn't Otis Ferguson copyright those phrases in 1942? Or are you accusing me of ripping off Ed Morrisey's closer about the film making lists? That's never been done before. You are more than likely a testosterone-fueled fan who subscribes to "Guns and Ammo" and says "accurate" when they mean "positive." Sorry if my pan of the film hit you in the head. I have never read this review and even if I had, and the thought of thievery had crossed my mind, why in the world would I choose to steal from a supportive review of a film I so obviously despise?see next post. Damn, there I go again ripping him off!

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artansert Feb. 26, 2012 @ 5:11 a.m.

more comments from ed morrissey The SEALs are also surprisingly good on screen, although clearly new at emoting for an audience, hardly one of the skill sets they find necessary in their work. That enhances the authenticity of the presentation, though, and it’s very easy to like these men — and to suffer along with them. There are no archetypes, really; there is one expectant father who wants to come back to see his child be born, a running subplot in the film, but for the most part focuses on the men doing their jobs. There are a few lighter moments, but no laugh lines or comic subplots.

Oddly, the film that I think comes closest to this as a comparison is … Backdraft. That film used a few authentic firefighters in speaking roles and had more backstory and subplots, but it took very seriously its responsibility to tell about the bravery and toughness of firefighters everywhere, and what they have to face. Act of Valor is a better film for its closer focus and better pacing, but it has that same general feel when it comes to the interactions on screen between the SEALs. It’s easy to take this film seriously when it treats its subject with this much respect. Act of Valor celebrates traditional values of duty, honor, and especially sacrifice, and reminds us that every day men like these — and these men — keep us from harm we never knew was coming.

Needless to say, this film is rated R for very good reasons. There are only a couple of instances of cursing, which surprised me a little, but the violence is depicted very realistically (or as realistically as they could get with an R rating). A number of people get shot, a few blown up, and blood spatter is not spared in those scenes. There are also depictions of the aftermath of torture involving the CIA agent, not the torture itself, but it’s still pretty intense. I’d be very cautious about taking a pre-teen to this film, and would strongly suggest to parents to see it by themselves first before thinking about whether pre-teens or younger teens are ready to handle it.

I would highly recommend Act of Valor to everyone else. There are not a whole lot of movies coming out of Hollywood that tell these stories or celebrate those virtues — in fact, there are damn few of these, just as there are damn few of these men. We need to flock to the theaters to support those that do get made, and to show our appreciation for the men who made this one. And fortunately for us, we get to see an excellent and moving film, too.

Be sure to read Kevin McCullough’s deconstruction of some of the criticism Act of Valor has received from the Left.

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cinemacurmudgeon Feb. 26, 2012 @ 3:54 p.m.

Seeing as Backdraft was a piece of sh*t, I cannot take your cinematic opinions seriously. I don't even need to mention Tears of the Sun.

It seems you are more enthralled with the existence of the movie instead of the execution. There's nothing wrong with telling the story of Navy Seals (or anyone in the military), as long as it's done well and not just another piece of propaganda. The trailer was enough to tell me everything I need to know. This was made by a boardroom of execs who thought they'd be able to get asses in seats with this nifty gimmick. It worked too (surprisingly, since most exec decisions are disasters).

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Scott Marks Feb. 27, 2012 @ 8:44 p.m.

But you did mention "Tears of the Sun," you did mention it, damn you!

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SurfPuppy619 Feb. 27, 2012 @ 9:35 p.m.

I loved Backdraft and Tears of the Sun......I look to be entertained, and those both did it for me.

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Scott Marks Feb. 27, 2012 @ 10:51 p.m.

I was actually on the set of "Backdraft." They shot a scene at the dilapidated Uptown Theatre in Chicago and one of my former students hooked me up. (I worship my former students!) I got to watch DeNiro film a few shots. Ron Howard was a very genial fellow. No surprise. We talked about "Eddie's Father" and women with "skinny eyes and big busts." Billy Baldwin just wanted to make sure he was okay. After every take he'd hit the video playback machine and ask, "Was I okay? Did I look okay?" DeNiro and I made eye-contact for about 4-seconds. He looked at me like I was a bug. I remember seeing the finished product and thinking Howard got a better performance out of the fire than he did any member of the cast.

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SurfPuppy619 Feb. 27, 2012 @ 11:25 p.m.

I liked the Chicago filming locations, especially the final shot as they are driving the truck away from what looks like DT-Michigan Ave??- into the suburbs.

I have to say, Backdraft was entertaining to me.

As for Tears of the Sun, two words, Monica Bellucci baby!

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Scott Marks Feb. 28, 2012 @ 7:55 a.m.

Yeah, but who wants to see Monica Bellucci in a film that's rated R for war violence?

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iamthereforeijam March 1, 2012 @ 2:49 p.m.

These days, going on years now, I have this belief about anyone:

You are either a Patriot or a traitor. If you are neither, you are a coward. Scott, no offense, I feel in my humble opinion, you are a coward. I do not want to know what YOU feel you are, that is not an issue or concern with me. You are you, you have your own beliefs, life, and (to date) freedom therein (kudos to our Military who sacrifice their lives for us to be able to be and have these "gifts"). Your mind is superDuperUltra cool & and it rules your heart. It fools you(may I say: it is "brain-washed". Your review was "slick", and as petty as you claim the movie is. Listen to yourself sometime. I too have had the tendency to pat myself on the back for being an intellectual. I, through the years with life experience at my side, have realized "looking at both sides" helps an overactive, egocentric mind. Sometimes "simplicity" is the thing, the only thing. "Keep it simple stupid". What you saw in the movie was supposed to be fictionalized; didn't you see the beginning. The plot, the action, the deeds they did are.... get this----> tiny, compared to the real life stories they deal with. They ARE humble; they DO play themselves down. I suggest getting in touch with one of the Navy Bases here in town, and ask them for a minimal tour (if that option is still allowed and/or available since 9/11, or have you forgot about that time; and/or you feel "it was an inside job"). In the past I have had the honor to do just that, more than once... and NOW... I am a Patriot. And no Scott, I am not brain-washed; I WAS like you most of my life. I understand.

These men & women are to be commended. So are the directors, who at least had the courage to try & tell a story (downplaying the real facts for the sake of security; yours & mine) re: the most important and only thing left in Our Country that is worth keeping: Our Military / aka: freedom. Wouldn't you love to have these guys looking out for you and your family? Well......................they are.

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Scott Marks March 1, 2012 @ 4:52 p.m.

You really need to separate fact from fiction. My job is to review a movie. Other than their "acting" and inabilitly to string together a coherent narrative, which as far as I'm concerned are both fair game, nowhere do I make this a personal attack against Navy SEALs. This isn't about heroes and protecting families, it's about bad filmmaking. Why not watch "Sands of Iwo Jima?" It's a prime example of how patriotic filmmaking withstands the test of time. It's also an exceptionally well made movie.

As for cowardice, I side with Woody Allen: "In the event of war, I'm a hostage."

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iamthereforeijam March 1, 2012 @ 10:43 p.m.

My apologies Scott. Your job: "reviewing movies" is in a whole different sphere than "feeling a movie" or experiencing a movie. You view it intellectually. Well, I was right about that part on "your part". But simply viewing & experiencing the extreme bravery these people have in real-life assignments overshadowed "directing", "acting", and "dialog". THAT, blew any simple explanation out of the water. These people ARE REAL! Maybe that is why its so hard to fathom for normal average human beings. I feel if the directors objective was to simply portray courage i.e. the Navy Seals (a band of brave, loyal, trustworthy, solid fearless men); "Act(s) of Valor" achieved this(for me).

The definition of VALOR is: strength of mind or spirit that enables a person to encounter danger with firmness; boldness and determination in facing great danger, especially in battle; heroic courage. ACT OF VALOR accomplished this. Too much "story" too much "dialog" and REAL actors (probably cowards most) would weaken and sicken real-time real-life truths. If you don't believe these "kinds of events" exist, your head is in the sand, and I'm not talking about your "views" re such actions... just that we ARE IN FACT "being protected" by men & women "out there". This too, is huge! Not a "gad-about" discussion for afternoon tea. ouch.

So, "intellectually"... yeh, whatever, you're the critic. Heartstruck and extremely proud (in a Patriotic way)is how I left feeling... and wondering, or rather "hoping": could I be that brave? ... ever.

So on the intellectual level, a question for the movie reviewer: What do you mean by "propagandistic" exactly?

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Scott Marks March 2, 2012 @ 1:40 p.m.

It's a movie! It's not reality! Even if they are SEALs in real life, they are playing fictional characters in a fictional story. Superman can't fly. King Kong was 18-inches tall and made of foam rubber and rabbit fur. This is not a documentary account. It's make believe, and as such these jarheads display zero signs of originality in their non-stop parade of formula and cliches. Perhaps if you put away your gung ho, macho emotions and took a more intellectual approach to art you'd understand this.

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Diver58 April 27, 2012 @ 1:06 p.m.

The movie was ok, I do know a few people in that part of the service. However, the doctor that kept saying she was a doctor from Mexico was pretty funny. She had the thickest Puerto Rican accent on her. Hollywood you are so funny.

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