Missing in Action has largely been considered a Rambo rip-off - and a bad one at that. Now available on Blu-ray, there’s little doubt that this 1984 actioner is cheesy and somewhat slow-moving. Chuck Norris, who’s become somewhat of a cult figure thanks to a popular Internet meme, doesn’t really bring much to his role and director Joseph Zito pieces together a limp, misplaced film.
The story behind Missing in Action is that producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus were taken in by a screenplay that was floating around Hollywood at the time. That screenplay was written by an up-and-comer named James Cameron and was intended as the sequel to First Blood. Indeed, Missing in Action hit theatres just months prior to Rambo: First Blood Part 2 and the similarities are hard to miss.
Norris stars as Colonel James Braddock, an American officer. He spent time in a Vietnamese POW camp and was tortured. He also escaped. Years later, Braddock heads to Ho Chi Minh City with government officials to investigate the possibility of the lousy Vietcong still holding American POWs. Braddock finds out the truth and heads to Thailand to try to free the Americans.
Braddock teams with an Army buddy (M. Emmet Walsh) and a Senator’s assistant (Lenore Kasdorf) to get the information and equipment he needs to free the trapped POWs. He also digs through the underbelly of a pretty broad Orient, finding all sorts of debauchery and villainy on his way to his mission.
Missing in Action was essentially rushed into production to take on the Rambo films, so it stands to reason that Braddock winds up being a pretty basic copy of the Sylvester Stallone character. Unfortunately for Norris, Braddock is nowhere near the icon John Rambo is. Norris’ protagonist lacks charisma and seems to be sleepwalking through the bulk of the picture. His lines generally consist of a combination of either "Let's go!" or "Damn right!"
Along with a limp hero, Missing in Action actually seems to be missing its, well, action. It takes about half the film for the mission to unfold. Prior to that, Braddock sneaks around to find evidence and climbs around on a balcony in a sequence that seems to go on forever. Kasdorf gets to nonsensically reveal her breasts in a fit of Norris quick-thinking, but there’s not much else to take in for the picture’s first half or so.
When things do get underway, Braddock apes a few moves from Rambo but doesn’t manage any of the intensity. There’s no potency to the character as he mows down the villainous Vietcong and there’s no complexity to his emotions when it comes to saving the POWs. I understand that nobody watches these sorts of films for subtleties and emotional connection, but some meat on the bones would’ve made the events of Missing in Action matter.
Obviously there’s something to be said for the whole revision of the Vietnam fiasco that takes place in films like these. Missing in Action is a way to get something “good” out of the conflict that divided a nation and ruined an international reputation. In painting things on such terms, it’s essential that heaps of xenophobia are added to the mix.
There are those who’ll dig the wearisome gibberish of Missing in Action, but I can’t count myself among their number. This is a poor film, from start to finish, and it deserves to be relegated to the dustbin of action movie history.
The Blu-ray release doesn’t really add much. Yes, the picture is clean and it looks to have come from a fresh remaster. Colours are bold and the presentation in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio does it some aesthetic favours. The graininess comes with the territory, but it’s never overpowering. Audio quality is good, too, presented as it is in mono DTS-HD Master Audio. There are no bonus features on the disc, save for the film’s trailer.
Fans of the film can win a Chuck Norris Blu-ray Prize Pack, featuring Delta Force, Missing in Action, and Missing in Action II, from Cinema Sentries—find out how.