Reel Reviews

‘Act of Valor’

Audience:
L – limited adult audience

 

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Graphic scenes of heroic exploits not for children or even all adults

As explained in an unusual prelude featuring its co-directors, the earnest but graphically violent action film “Act of Valor” (Relativity) employs real-life, necessarily anonymous members of the Navy’s elite SEAL unit to tell a fictional story dramatizing their off-screen work. The aesthetic results are, perhaps, predictable.

When enacting the kind of combat operation at which they excel, the SEALs – their moniker is an acronym for Sea, Air and Land teams – are as convincing as one might expect. And their imaginary exploits are ably packaged in this movie.

But these suspenseful sequences are interspersed with a narrative maladroitly ramming home macho values as well as by the kind of banter that may build barracks camaraderie but does little to entertain moviegoers. As for the bloodletting toward which such scenes all too often lead up, it’s portrayed unsparingly, limiting appropriate viewership to a minority of adults.

The plot is serviceable enough: We follow along as the SEALs’ rescue of a kidnapped CIA operative (Roselyn Sanchez) reveals a terrorist plot to smuggle advanced explosives across the Mexican border. But the violence bar is further raised as the agent’s captivity sees her subjected to a prolonged beating and the torturous application of a power drill to extract information.

Throw in another early scene where a crowd of carefree schoolchildren become collateral damage in the assassination of an American diplomat, and the cumulative effect is gratitude to the commandoes for the duties they perform, mingled with an uncomfortable sense that there’s more than one reason for their operations to remain secret.

The film contains pervasive, often gory violence, including torture, a couple of uses of profanity, and about a dozen instances each of rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is L – limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R – restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

(By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service)

‘The Vow’

Audience:
A-III – adults

 

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Sticky sweet romantic comedy gives nod to marriage and fidelity

Poor Channing Tatum! Though he isn’t gone, he is forgotten in “The Vow” (Screen Gems), a well-intentioned but flawed love story based on real events.

Tatum plays Chicago recording engineer Leo, whose romance with – and marriage to – artist Paige (Rachel McAdams) have made him a happy man. That all changes, however, when a car accident injures them both, and leaves Paige stricken with partial amnesia.

She awakes from a coma with no memory of their idyllic courtship or happy marriage. Instead, she has mentally reverted to her pre-Leo days as a law school student engaged to go-getter ex-fiance Jeremy (Scott Speedman).

When her estranged parents, Rita (Jessica Lange) and Bill (Sam Neill), appear on the scene, it develops that Paige also has lost all recollection of the traumatic events that led her to separate from them.

Leo sets out to win Paige’s heart all over again. But Rita and Bill are angling to put their bewildered daughter back on the path to a legal career and drive her back into the arms of conventionally respectable Jeremy.

This romantic drama certainly celebrates Leo’s extraordinarily determined marital fidelity. And it manages to strike a generally amiable tone as it does so. But characterizations are shallow: Mildly bohemian Leo, for example, takes on his conniving 1-percenter in-laws, who we know must be evil because they palatial home in Lake Forest.

The tale's credibility – and therefore its impact – is also undercut by the excessive cuteness of the initial relationship between Leo and Paige. They’re shown popping chocolates into each other’s mouths and they later write out their self-composed wedding vows on menus from their favorite eatery.

Presumably in a nod to Paige’s profession, those promises are exchanged, not in a church or even at city hall but in a museum gallery. A friend, who has somehow gotten himself temporarily vested with the necessary power by the state of Illinois, presides at the vows.

The film contains brief non-graphic marital lovemaking, a premarital situation, fleeting rear nudity, an adultery theme, numerous sexual references and jokes, at least one use of profanity as well as a couple of rough and about a half-dozen crude terms. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III – adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

(By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service)