[Screen It]

(2011) (Roselyn Sanchez, Alex Veadov) (R)

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Action: An elite team of Navy SEALs embarks on a covert mission to rescue a kidnapped CIA agent and thwart a major terrorist attack against the United States.
An elite team of eight Navy SEALs (played by real active-duty SEALs who are referred to in the film only by their first or last names) are deployed to the Philippines when one CIA agent (NESTOR SERRANO) is murdered and a second named Lisa (ROSELYN SANCHEZ) is kidnapped. The two were working to uncover a terrorist connection involving a notorious international smuggler named Christo (ALEX VEADOV) and a Muslim extremist named Shabal (JASON COTTLE).

In the process of their rescue mission, they discover that Shabal is plotting to attack the United States on its own soil with a potentially horrific new weapon. Shabal's plan is to sneak 16 suicide bombers across the Mexican-U.S. border and detonate special vests filled with gel explosives in crowded public venues across the country. The plan will strike fear into the heart of every American and plunge the nation's economy even further into despair.

It's up to the SEALs to track Shabal and Christo's movement and eliminate them and the threat to the U.S. The mission takes the SEAL team to the South Pacific; then to a small island off the coast of Mexico; and, finally, to the Mexican border.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
Before I launch into any review of "Act of Valor," I want to address one point that has become a bit of a blanket criticism of this film. You see, the movie stars real active-duty Navy SEALs as Navy SEALs sent on a covert mission to rescue a kidnapped CIA agent and thwart a terrorist plot to attack America on its own soil. It paints the SEALs as a group in a heroic and very positive light. So, multiple reviewers have been shrugging off the project, calling it a glorified recruitment film.

I had the OPPOSITE reaction. After seeing "Act of Valor," there's no way I would ever want to be a SEAL! Oh, sure. The guys get to shoot cool guns, parachute out of planes, and ride on submarines. But they live under the constant threat of violent death. They're in a kind of physical shape I'm not in even in my dreams. And they have to leave their wives and children for weeks and months on end, often not even able to tell them where they are in the world. I get distraught when a movie that runs north of two hours calls me away from the Mrs. and my daughter.

But this shouldn't have come as any surprise. I knew I wasn't military material very early on. Years ago, I attended a small bachelor party that was held at a paintball range. And when I say "small," I mean it was five guys including the groom. The operators of the paintball range said we could shoot each other up, but that it would be more fun if we worked as a team and took on him and his staff. Yeah, that was a mistake. We get out onto this range with our little guns carrying canisters of paintballs, and these dudes come out in camouflage and masks with these scary-looking, rapid-fire rifles with scopes. We were just five schmoes out to have a good time on a Saturday afternoon. These guys lived to hurt guys like us. They immediately started fanning out and using hand signals to coordinate their attack. One of them had a bird call-like thing he did with his lips to prompt his team's movements.

I started freaking. I was, like, "Uh, I want to go home! I want to go home!" Suddenly, we were surrounded on all sides, and these weekend warriors just lit us up with their paintballs. By the end of the assault, we looked like we had been attacked by a platoon of crazed impressionist painters, we were so many colors. And I kid you not, as we were driving away, I could hear a couple of them yelling aloud in a high-pitched mocking tone, "I want to go home! Drive me home!"

The one thing I took away from that experience? In a real war setting, I'd be dead pretty quick. So...war films...they've never done much for me. I don't live vicariously through the characters. I'd much rather disappear into some fantasy flick where I'm Spider-Man swinging down 5th Avenue or Batman driving that cool car and living in the mansion outside of town waiting to pummel easy targets like a psychotic clown or that skinny dude in spandex who likes to tell riddles.

So, a half-dozen paragraphs in, why haven't I reviewed "Act of Valor?" Well, that's because there's not much of a film here to critique. It's really not as the commercials and trailers promise, a deeply authentic look at what real Navy SEALs go through in the field. It really is the movie version of their top-secret missions and operations, complete with bad guys who shoot and always miss and good guys who shoot back and pretty much hit everything they aim at.

During the multiple gun battles in the film, we are even given a first-person shooter's point of view of the action, complete with the gun in the foreground that is lifted right out of a video game. There is an evil mastermind terrorist and his flamboyant financier who, with a couple of strokes of the keyboard, could easily be James Bond baddies. And you just know one of the SEALs is going to die in the end. And the film telegraphs this one character's fate in such an obvious fashion, it's painful. The list goes on.

At the same time, the film is at its best when you watch the SEALs strategizing like those paintball Yahoos that shot me up, plotting out their every move as they approach via stealth compounds or hideouts with terrorist cells inside. A sequence in the Philippines involving Navy gun boats displays real heavy artillery ammunition being used, and it's an awe-inspiring sight to watch these ships obliterate their targets. A nighttime parachute jump into hostile territory is similarly impressive, as is a mid-sea landing atop a nuclear submarine.

There is enough spectacle here to recommend seeing this on the big-screen for combat movie junkies. But if you want a truly authentic depiction of men at war complete with real emotion and real scenes of life-or-death battle, you really have to go the documentary route and see "Restrepo" or the more recent "Hell and Back Again." I rate this a 5 out of 10. (T. Durgin)

Reviewed February 21, 2012 / Posted February 24, 2012

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