Whenever a movie cooperates closely with the military, someone is bound to attack it as a covert recruitment video. That was a valid criticism of "Top Gun" and "Red Dawn," but it won't work against "Act of Valor," a project initiated by the Navy and filmed during training exercises with active-duty SEALs playing themselves.
Nothing covert there. So now that all cards are on the table, how's the movie?
At its best, "Act of Valor" feels like being embedded with the elite SEALs (the name stands for Sea, Air and Land teams), America's new glamour-boys following a hostage rescue in Somalia and, more famously, the swift dispatch of Osama bin Laden. That event, soon to be a major motion picture from director Kathryn Bigelow ("The Hurt Locker") is here reworked as a raid in a Mexican border slum, one of several sequences that bristle with tension, urgency and very real-looking chaos.
Less convincing are the SEALs themselves, who seem alive in the heat of mock-battle (the ammunition on screen is live) but can't pull off anything like emotion or even casual chitchat. If any star is born here, it's the twinkly-eyed SEAL called Senior Chief, whose friendly-to-furious interrogation of a Russian smuggler (played by an actor, Alex Veadov) is one of the film's liveliest and funniest scenes.
That stock Russian is one of many attempts by writer Kurt Johnstad ("300") to turn the raw footage of directors Mike "Mouse" McCoy and Scott Waugh into something recognizably Hollywood. The result is an almost endearingly corny plot involving a CIA operative (Roselyn Sanchez), a Chechen terrorist (Jason Cottle) and a Mexican drug cartel. The actors are almost as bad as the SEALs, and it's sometimes embarrassingly easy to tell the staged action from the real thing. As a piece of filmed entertainment, "Act of Valor" will never be mistaken for "Top Gun," but it's a heck of a recruitment video.
PLOT Real Navy SEALs, playing themselves, chase a terrorist across the globe.
RATING R (language, violence, intense action)
CAST Roselyn Sanchez, Jason Cottle and real-life Navy SEALs
PLAYING AT Area theaters
BOTTOM LINE Real-life action and painfully bad acting make this Navy-approved project a mixed bag.