- Last Updated: 1:02 AM, February 25, 2012
- Posted: 10:35 PM, February 23, 2012
Act of Valor
Medium caliber. Running time: 101 minutes. Rated R (profanity, graphic violence, torture). At the Lincoln Square, the Magic Johnson, the Empire, others.
I’m not going to say “Act of Valor” oversimplifies manly bravado, but Sylvester Stallone just called to say there’s more to war than square-jawed warriors shooting villains in the teeth.
The film began as a recruitment video for the Navy and more or less wound up that way. A team of highly trained SEALs jaunts around the globe rescuing a beautiful CIA agent, capturing a yacht covered with bikini beauties and massacring thugs. They storm compounds, spout cool-sounding jargon, wax poetic about their brotherhood and never complain, get tired, make politically incorrect remarks, eat bad food or accidentally shoot civilians.
Ultimately, their goal is to stop a squad of suicide bombers from sneaking across the border from Mexico and randomly slaughtering Americans at leading tourist sites. According to the movie, accomplishing this goal is as simple as shooting up the rat-bag camp in Mexico where the suicide vests are stored.
Refreshing as it is to see the military portrayed as something other than a band of neurotics and creeps, there’s a reason this brand of rah-rah and bang-bang didn’t outlast the age of Whitesnake and Marty McFly. Today, we live with the reality of ongoing major military missions, so they’re much less easy to imagine as fantasy action sequences where people say rude things to the men torturing them and the brains of villains always end up painted across the walls of their hideouts.
Moreover, those ’80s movies at least had Lee Marvin and an escapist quality. This movie has a no-name cast, and the real-life SEALs in it are more or less interchangeably able men. It consorts with reality — it has a grit to it, along with a somber respect for necessary sacrifices that winds up with a roll call of veterans who gave their lives in recent actions — yet it also wants to be “G.I. Joe.” Choosing one path or the other would have been wiser, and sub-Tarantino dialogue, such as the remark by a SEAL that if they should fail “This would be big trouble in little China” — drawing a comparison between the mass murder of US citizens by jihadists and a 1986 Kurt Russell B-movie — comes across as foolish.
Some will enjoy the many ker-blammy shootout scenes (I was bored by them), but the best parts are the reflective opening and closing, which actually present some interesting thoughts on the nature of the warrior class that is so central to so much of American history and yet so mysterious. Lose a loved one, and you’re advised to “Put your pain in a box, lock it down.” There might be some truth to that.
Still, these movies, in which unimpeachable heroes give a good thwacking to international evildoers, always seem to be written and/or directed by armchair admirals — men like “Red Dawn” auteur John Milius, Tom Clancy and Stallone — who seem to know everything about the military except the way to their local recruitment office. Those who served under fire tend to have more nuanced views.
The overall feel of “Act of Valor” is not that of battle-tested hard men chewing over war stories, but of outsiders sucking up in an effort to be granted honorary membership in a club they can never understand.