Sunday, February 28, 2016

P.O.W. The Escape

David Carradine’s days as a bankable leading man must have been waning, because he got stuck with Cannon’s B-team for P.O.W. THE ESCAPE, basically a loose remake of the Go-Go Boys' MISSING IN ACTION 2.

While Chuck Norris and Michael Dudikoff were being directed by action aces like Sam Firstenberg and Joseph Zito, Carradine was sweating it out in the Philippines with AMERICAN NINJA producer Gideon Amir, who had never directed a film. He didn’t even get a good-looking one-sheet.

It doesn’t match up with Cannon’s best work, but despite its dumb title, P.O.W. THE ESCAPE is a serviceable action movie with solid work by Carradine as an American prisoner of war. Sadly, it’s also another film that wastes the wonderful Steve James, whose charisma and talent deserved more than playing sidekick to a white action star (Carradine, Dudikoff, Ginty, Norris) in low-budget movies. Even though he gets third billing in P.O.W. THE ESCAPE (behind some schmuck named Charles R. Floyd), James has little screen time and obviously much less than he deserved.

Carradine was a master at headlining schlock, and he’s fine in Chuck Norris mode as Colonel James Cooper, whose mission to rescue POWs goes awry and places him in a camp run by sadistic Captain Vinh (Mako). As the highest ranking American officer in captivity, Cooper has propaganda value, and the Viet Cong intend to take him to Hanoi in two days time.

Vinh, however, offers a deal: help him defect to the United States in exchange for helping Cooper and his men reach American lines. That means a rough trip through the jungle with the enemy nipping at their toes, a traitor within Cooper’s ranks, and the treacherous Vinh, who obviously has a trick up his sleeve.

Like many a Cannon production, P.O.W. THE ESCAPE shows signs of behind-the-scenes strife. Some shots appear to be the Los Angeles County Arboretum, and the closing credits back up suspicions of Hollywood reshoots. Marcus Manton’s editing is choppy, including a car chase that just kind of vanishes. With all that, P.O.W. THE ESCAPE manages to be entertaining. The second act lapses into loginess with too much of it based around Floyd as a jerkwad named Sparks who causes a lot of trouble.

Fans of explosions and machine guns should find little to dislike about P.O.W. THE ESCAPE, however. Amir doesn’t skimp on the violence and even provides a topless hooker for a different kind of thrill. Carradine holds it all together like a pro and even manages to liven up the action with doses of humor (his quip about what outfit Jimi Hendrix served in sounds like an ad-lib). It’s not up to Cannon’s MISSING IN ACTION trilogy or PLATOON LEADER, but P.O.W. THE ESCAPE is a fun action picture.

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