(Submitted by Mr. Andrew Peters…Thanks, ya Goon-ie!! 😉 xoxo)
Chuck Norris, perhaps the genesis of what we now know as the meme, was the epitome of “man” in the rah-rah-America, chest thumping, gun shooting, shit ‘sploding, kick-a-man bad ass. He was the kind of man that if you shot him, he would clench up his butt cheeks and fart that bullet right out. Cannon Films recognized this popularity and exclusively signed Chuck to a multi-picture deal, thus bringing us some of the action movie staples that we grew up on in the ‘80s, war movies to be specific. The early ‘80s was a prime time to make Vietnam movies, seeing as how the war was still fresh in our minds, you could shoot them cheap and audiences would flock to them.
If there is one thing Golan and Globus knew how to do better than anyone, it was how to market their film to anyone. The men get plenty of explosions and the women get a number of scenes of Chuck Norris removing his shirt to reveal his ripped, hairy chest for no reason and wearing jeans so tight that any hipster would be envious. There was also a little something for the ladies; to see the sweat glisten off his chest on the hot Vietnam moonlit night, right before he roundhouse kicked a man out a window was worth the price of admission alone. These films from Cannon tended to be (as I heard them best called) B-movies on A-budgets.
Before we get started, Missing in Action and Missing in Action 2 were filmed back to back and Missing in Action is actually the second film in the franchise, believe it or not. However, Cannon felt that Missing in Action 2 was the stronger of the two movies and was released to theaters before the first film, so Missing in Action became a prequel, Missing in Action 2: The Beginning and Missing in Action 2 became Missing in Action. I probably over complicated that explanation, but this is the earliest example of something like this happening that I can think of. Oddly enough, the film very much mirrors the plot of Rambo: First Blood Part II, but Missing in Action was released one year prior. Is this where the idea for the plot of Rambo came from or is it just a coincidence?
Perhaps one of if not his most memorable role, Chuck Norris is Col. James Braddock; a Vietnam veteran who is being disgraced on national television because of his conspiracy theories about Vietnamese POW camps that still contain American prisoners. Braddock stares out of his window deep in thought, chugging an ice cold Bud while totally shirtless, watching the news as they argue whether or not there are American POWs still in Vietnam. Occasionally, he flips the channels to catch Spider-Man cartoons and I seriously thought the film was suddenly becoming a bad bootleg of it, because the shot just meanders for minutes on an episode. There may not seem like there was a purpose for this, but at the time Cannon Films was trying to get their Spider-Man flick off the ground that director Joseph Zito was attached to direct at one point and seeing as how he directed Missing in Action, it seemed like a fun connection.
Braddock comes out of hiding and heads to Vietnam to get some face time with the press and although the Vietnamese government has “witnesses” that claim there are no POWs, he knows otherwise. With the aid of a female reporter whose name escapes me because she matters so little, he uses her as a cover (under the covers) to sneak about a general’s compound to squeeze out some information from General Tran, who you might recognize as Cassandra’s father from Wayne’s World 2. After scaring the shit out of the guy, General Tran coughs up some info on the whereabouts of the prisoners, Chuck escapes a bunch of guards and says goodbye to his female reporter friend and so do we, because she’s not seen or heard from again. I’m certain her only purpose as basically the only female in the movie with a speaking role was to provide some really good side-boob. There are other women in the film, but they are pretty much just topless set pieces. Like I said, Golan and Globus knew how to exploit anything.
His journey continues further into Vietnam, thwarting scumbags that are out to stop him, usually by roundhouse kicking them into or out of things, like windows, walls, you name it. Braddock teams up with an old army buddy, Jack Tucker (M. Emmet Walsh) to help him get what he needs… firepower. And poon, if he wanted, but Braddock ain’t got no time for the pussy. Tuck, on the other hand, practically buries himself in it. Can’t say I blame the man, seeing as he’s afraid to go back into the warzone, but if I him I would be far more concerned with amount of STDs he’s probably contracted. You could wring out his underwear into a beaker and create a new virus.
The two buddies head down river in a sweet, kevlar coated pontoon boat mounted with an M-60 machine gun to continue their search. Needless to say, it’s not going to be easy, especially when there are too many bad guys for Chuck to karate chop or roundhouse kick. Good thing he brought and arsenal with him. After all, you want to see shit get blown up real good, don’t you. The film is odd when it comes to this. The action is either kind of lacking a punch, for lack of a pun, or it is way over the top. For example, when Braddock props a grenade on his jeep, so when the enemy jeep rams it, it explodes. It looks like someone threw a handful of dirt at the thing as people jumped away in all directions. But then you have moments where a camp explodes and Joseph Zito captures it from like four different angles and you watch it from every single one as this things erupts into a giant fireball. Most of the gunfire is reduced to Chuck just spraying a machine gun in all directions as guys fall over, so nothing to comment on that, other than it’s usually to get the body count up. It’s as if they sunk all of their money into a few action scenes and forgot that there were more. Chuck can’t karate kick his way out of all of them!
Saying that Missing in Action is a product of its era is an understatement. It very much spoke to an early ‘80s, post Vietnam when there was a strong sense of American pride, bitter from losing a controversial war. Much like Rambo: First Blood Part II, audiences were given a disgraced war hero given a chance at redemption, so he plunges into the depths of his formal Hell to rescue some POWs. Needless to say, Rambo is much better looking and better made film, but it also had about $42 million dollars more to spend. Given for what it is, Missing in Action is a pretty decent action flick that gives you exactly what you want; a brooding hero with a vendetta and a mission and nothing is going to stop him. The film isn’t necessarily non-stop action, taking breathers occasionally to develop plot, but when it does that the scene usually ends with a group of bad guys bursting into the room to either get drop kicked or blown away. Both are done well and you totally buy Chuck as war hero Braddock, but the film isn’t the best display of what a leading man Chuck Norris can be, as he doesn’t have a massive amount of dialogue and his fight scenes are usually over quick and he’s often paired with people that know how to fight back or take a licking.
Not taking anything away from the film, because it’s an absolute blast and with or without nostalgia, it’s a prime example of ‘80s action exploitation films, but I don’t believe it holds up as well as most of us remember. Sure, Chuck Norris is bad ass as Braddock, there’s plenty of shootouts and explosions, American pride for sale and what not, but it feels a bit like Rambo-lite. Again, not taking anything away from the film and certainly not the performances, because these characters are fun as hell, but it’s not as grand as I recall. That’s a side effect with most Cannon movies, seeing as they were made cheap and on the fly. Of course being younger when we first viewed these, they are going to seem much larger than life, but thirty years later, you can definitely see the weaknesses of them. However, that doesn’t affect the long lasting staying power of these movies and that’s what Cannon (unintentionally?) did; made fun as hell flicks that get some mileage and Missing in Action is a ton of fun.