“Based on real acts of valor,” claims an opening crawl in Act of Valor, whose title technically only promises one. Whatever that means, at least the overall message is clear: With this G.I. Joe extravaganza you’re getting the real deal. The main “actors” aren’t sissy thespians: they’re actual active-duty Navy SEALs, so actual their names are nowhere in the credits. Even some of the bullets are, reportedly, real, although what purpose firing live ammo on a movie set serves is never explained in the credits nor by the reliably Successories-heavy narration track. If Act of Valor is to be accepted as verisimilitude, then the day-to-day of our nation’s badass elites is a series of cliches, some pilfered from generic action movies, others straight out of recruitment films, which—considering it’s been shepherded into existence by U.S. military—the film essentially is.
While certain particulars are culled from truth—including one unthinkable-to-most feat of bravery late in—it’s safe to say the storyline is, at best, a touch embellished. After rescuing a kidnapped journalist, our team of ass-kickers happen upon a terrorist plot that will, in the words of a baddie named “Christo” (after the artist, surely), “make 9/11 look like a fucking walk in the park.” The inexplicably simple way this apocalyptic scenario is snuffed has more to do with lazy screenwriting than the handiwork of our nation’s finest soldiers. The film wisely keeps its cast busy with action scenes, which toggle between unfollowable “chaos” mode and actual first-person shooter POV-cam. When not shilling for the military, Act of Valor shills for military games.
The soldiers aren’t master thespians, which is fine since the script treats them as great fighters first, recognizable human beings a distant second, maybe third. Of the troop, we only get to know two, one of whose fate is comically foreshadowed: He constantly reminds us he has a kid on the way, and even carries his grandfather’s faded American flag in his pocket. The downtime scenes are groaners of forced banter, signaling that there are no real characters to play. Not that Act of Valor needed to be another stark examination of the psychological turmoil of a soldier’s life, but the best old war movies—by John Ford, Raoul Walsh and Samuel Fuller—managed character and life amidst the fighting and speeches. Act of Valor shares with the monotonous Battle: Los Angeles the idea that one honors the troops by portraying them as personality-free saints. Not only doesn’t that honor them, but worse, it’s boring.