A military recruiting video masquerading as a feature-length film.

The TV ads and trailers for Act of Valor repeatedly emphasize the involvement of “active-duty Navy SEALS,” not just as advisers, but as actors too, albeit in a heavily fictionalized scenario, a scenario apparently culled from the now defunct 24.

While never explicitly stated, the use of active-duty Navy SEALs promises verisimilitude to moviegoers in exchange for the price of a movie ticket, that what we’re seeing is somehow the closest, the nearest non-military moviegoers will ever get. It also expects something in response: Unquestioned audience appreciation of the sacrifice Navy SEALs have made and will make to defend our (vaguely defined) freedom from foreign aggression (usually, if not exclusively, of the developing world, brown-skinned variety).

Just as importantly, Act of Valor fails dramatically. Taking a more-is-more approach, Act of Valor opens first in Jakarta, Indonesia, as a female suicide bomber attacks an international elementary school, killing a U.S. ambassador and his son. Act of Valor then segues to Costa Rica as very bad men, a.k.a. a Russian arms dealer and smuggler, Christo ((Alex Veadov), sends heavily armed thugs to kidnap Morales (Roslyn Sanchez), a CIA operative working undercover as a doctor. In response, the U.S. government dispatches the Navy SEALs to rescue Morales. The first of several videogame-inspired firefights, complete with cutaways to first-person shooter inserts, leaves at least a dozen faceless henchmen dead (mostly via head shots), one of their own seriously wounded (like the Marines, the SEALs never leave a man behind), and a badly beaten and tortured Morales back in safe hands.

The SEALs also recover a cell phone during the rescue mission that somehow connects Christo to a much bigger, potentially more dangerous target, Christo’s childhood friend, Abul Shabal (Jason Cottle), a Russian-born, Islamic convert and extremist. Abul wants to out-do Osama bin Laden, staging a massive, albeit dispersed terrorist attack inside the United States. In one sign of Act of Valor’s muddled, confused approach to storytelling, Abul initially identifies himself as a Chechen jihadist fighting against the occupation of Chechnya by Russia. Act of Valor never bothers to explain why Abul would decide to attack the United States rather than Russia. But given his physical appearance (bald heard, beard, face scars), he’s obviously a bad, bad man who, if (or rather when) found, must be terminated with extreme prejudice.

The SEALs practically circumnavigate the globe pursuing leads and engaging in lengthy firefights with barely seen, definitely hostile locales before returning almost full circle to Central America, specifically Mexico and the U.S.-Mexico border. Before we get to the expected climactic firefight, however, Act of Valor’s screenwriter, Kurt Johnstad (300) leaves no military- or war-themed cliché unused. For example, Act of Valor returns repeatedly to a soon-to-be-father Navy SEALs, lingering as he says good-bye to his pregnant wife early on, bringing up the subject between set pieces, and cutting to scenes of anxious worry multiple times. It’s a well-worn cliché that almost always guarantees the expectant father’s screen time will be limited to the first and, if he’s lucky, the second act. To Act of Valor minor, inconsequential credit, he manages to make it into the third act.

The ads and publicity materials for Act of Valor also make a point of emphasizing that former-stuntmen-turned-directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh decided not to credit the active-duty Navy SEALs, ostensibly to protect their identities (an odd choice, given that they’re faces aren’t hidden). It’s not. It’s just one more marketing gimmick, not to mention one more element that contributes to the directors’ attempts to romanticize and mythologize the Navy SEALs as best-of-the-best warriors guided by the highest moral ideals augmented, of course, by ultra-expensive, state-of-the-art phallic firepower. Right-wing politics aside, if that’s not the definition of a military recruiting video, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to imagine what would be.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

Showtimes and Tickets

Watch the Trailer