Sunday 6 May 2012

Movie Review: Missing In Action (1984)

A brain-free Vietnam war revenge fantasy, Missing In Action exemplified what Cannon Films was mostly about: C-level action movies for non-discerning audiences, filled with heavy weaponry, explosions, chases, macho posturing and dead bodies.

A US government delegation travels to Vietnam to discuss the issues of soldiers still listed as missing in action. Colonel James Braddock (Chuck Norris) is a last minute addition to the delegation - he was held by the Vietnamese during the war and accused of killing civilians before escaping his captors. Braddock is not interested in meetings and negotiations. He sets off in his own, skulking around Ho Chi Minh City to uncover clues about the location of a prison camp where Americans are still being held.

Braddock travels to Thailand and connects with Tuck (M. Emmet Walsh), another war veteran with access to weapons and equipment. Together, Braddock and Tuck launch an amphibious assault in an attempt to free the MIAs and embarrass the Vietnamese.

Rushed into production and release to beat Rambo: First Blood Part II into the theatres, and apparently based on early treatments of the same script, Missing in Action succeeds in elevating Sylvester Stallone's bloodfest into classic status. Chuck Norris cruises through the movie with an exasperating non-expressive face, surviving numerous attempts on his life and dispatching all-comers with a minimum of effort and a maximum of noise. All the Vietnamese are evil, all the American politicians are morons, and only Braddock understands what is wrong and right. The pervasive rah-rah kill'em all attitude is plain nauseating.

Typical of productions from the Golan - Globus stable, the production values are choppy, and the supporting performances straight from the dossier of lost careers. The only woman in the cast is Lenore Kasdorf, a stalwart of the daytime television soap opera scene. Director Joseph Zito hustles the action along with the sole purpose of canning every scene at the lowest possible cost while capturing the highest number of stuntmen flying through the air to their cinematic death. One of the stuntmen was none other than Jean-Claude Van Damme, doubtless taking notes on the finer production points of mindless action movies.

Missing In Action was supposed to be the second film in the series, but was released first after the original story of Braddock's captivity and escape proved to be a weaker movie (as difficult as that is to imagine). The sequel become the launch of the franchise, and the supposed first instalment was relegated to prequel status.

Missing In Action established Norris as a second-tier bankable movie star within the second-tier category of indestructible all-action patriotic heroes, proving that those willing to travel deep enough down the leagues will eventually find a zone of comfort.

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