Monday, March 28, 2016

Missing In Action

Before John J. Rambo did it, James R. Braddock, Vietnam veteran and former prisoner of war, returned to Southeast Asia to rescue American soldiers nearly a decade after the fall of Saigon. Chuck Norris (LONE WOLF MCQUADE) plays Braddock, who escaped from a Vietnamese POW camp a year earlier and has returned to Ho Chi Minh City with a fatuous U.S. senator (David Tress) and some eye candy (perennial television guest star Lenore Kasdorf, gamely projecting intelligence despite a nothing role and gratuitous toplessness).

The delegation is supposed to be investigating rumors of other POWs, but the Vietnamese government, in the person of General Trau (James Hong), accuses Braddock of war crimes. Kicked out of Vietnam after killing Trau (though Kasdorf maintains his alibi), Braddock looks up old war buddy Tuck (M. Emmet Walsh) in Bangkok, rents Tuck’s boat, collects some ordnance, and sneaks back in country to rescue POWs.

Arthur Silver, Larry Levinson, and Steve Bing’s baffling credit for “Characters Created By” is explained easily enough. This film, directed by Joseph Zito (INVASION U.S.A.), was produced back-to-back with, but after, the film Cannon later released as MISSING IN ACTION 2: THE BEGINNING. This was supposed to be the sequel, but Cannon believed it was the better film, so the studio flipped the release dates, making MIA 2 one of Hollywood’s earliest “prequels.” It is a good film with an excellent score by Jay Chattaway (MANIAC COP). More importantly to Cannon, it was a successful film, opening at #1 at the U.S. box office and beating the debuting NIGHT OF THE COMET and JUST THE WAY YOU ARE.

MISSING IN ACTION was not just one of Cannon’s biggest hits, but it was the first of Norris’ films for the studio, kicking him onto Hollywood’s action-star “A-/B+ list” and freeing him from the chopsocky ghetto. In MISSING IN ACTION, Norris barely demonstrates his karate skills, preferring to dispatch the baddies with big guns and bigger guns.

Working from a screenplay by frequent Norris collaborator James Bruner (AN EYE FOR AN EYE), director Zito proves himself well-suited to the material. His eye for action is superb, always placing the camera in the right spot for maximum impact. Shots of Norris’ stunt double rappelling across a line stretched several stories above the street are beautifully framed and lit. Zito nails the more dramatic scenes as well, alternating a cool explosion in a Bangkok hotel with shots of seriously injured bystanders in the street, showing that violence has human consequences.

Norris not only “returned” as Braddock in MIA 2, though the prison camp seen in that film is different than the one he escapes from in MIA, but also in 1988’s BRADDOCK: MISSING IN ACTION III. An interesting note: Jean-Claude Van Damme is a credited stuntman on MISSING IN ACTION, though it’s unclear if he can be recognized.

1 comment:

Grant said...

I don't go in for these "Rescue the MIA's" movies - except the parody "HOT SHOTS PART DEUX" - but this one has a very interesting cast. Among other things, Lenore Kasdorf was very good as Craig T. Nelson's insulting ex-wife on COACH (even though they only used her in a handful of episodes).