Home Video Hovel- Missing in Action, by Mattijs Grannetia
I was born in 1974 in Europe, so I did not get to experience the Vietnam War first-hand on television or otherwise. I mainly learned about the Vietnam War through movies. Around 1984 I was really starting to get into movies and at that time there were two movements in war movies about Vietnam. On the one hand there were the ultra-serious movies—Platoon, Apocalypse Now—that questioned the motivations behind this war and wanted to educate people about the severity of what went on over there. On the other hand there were the movies that would take the events of that war and turn them into a pulpy, easy to consume mess that felt more like pro-American propaganda than an honest account of the Vietnam War. Joseph Zito’s Missing in Action, now available on blu-ray, fits perfectly into the latter category.
When Missing in Action starts we hear explosions, gunfire, helicopters and rousing ‘80s music over the credits. Fade in to a piece of jungle where after a few seconds all hell is going to break loose. Fiery explosions rain down on a platoon of American soldiers, among them Braddock, played by Chuck Norris. It isn’t long before Braddock is carrying one of his fallen comrades, gives the thumbs up to a fellow soldier and starts to move toward the rescue helicopters. Braddock is superhuman; we know this because he doesn’t wear a helmet and seems able to dodge all the bullets that are shot at him. Later he even jumps off a watchtower with two live hand grenades in his hands on top of a Vietnamese soldier and he lives to tell about it. Forget Captain America, this is the guy you want next to you in a fight.
The movie continues with a very concerned Braddock waking up in a hotel room where he looks forlorn out of the window while Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends foil a prison break on television. Do you see the foreshadowing of the rest of the plot? Wink, wink. He changes the channel to a newscast where we are treated to a bit of exposition about Braddock. It appears he was detained in one of the dreaded prisoner camps in Vietnam for years and managed to escape just a year ago. Now he is asked to go back to Vietnam on a diplomatic mission to talk about the remaining prisoners of war (a hot button issue back in the ‘80s). I understand that Braddock is some sort of a symbol for these POWs, but bringing him is obviously a very bad idea.
Braddock’s urge to free the POWs take the better of him after he meets his captors again. He uses his ninja-like capabilities to sneak out of the hotel he is not supposed to leave. He goes over to the residence of his nemesis General Tran—played by the ever sinister James Hong—to sneak into the General’s bedroom to get the answers he needs about the existence of any more POW camps. And after that he uses the same ninja-like reflexes to escape the mansion and sneak his way back into the hotel. This sequence takes a staggering fifteen minutes to complete and to be honest, this is one of the better sequences in the entire movie, but that’s not saying a lot. This could have been part of any James Bond movie and nobody would complain about it.
It is from this point that Missing in Action starts to go seriously downhill. Every little bit of goodwill that director Joseph Zito and his stone-faced star Chuck Norris have gained in the first forty-five minutes is squandered. Braddock is attacked from all sides during his stay in Bangkok to prevent him from beginning his journey into the jungle to free the POWs. He gets help from an old buddy—played by M. Emmett Walsh—who supposedly owes Braddock something. During his ultimate mission everything goes from bad to worse. The action is beyond any suspension of disbelief the audience could muster up, with the most ridiculous moment when the Vietnamese forces think they have lost Braddock and he comes up from under the water in slow motion with a huge gun to blow those nasty Commy soldiers away. At least the whole thing looks OK.
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment did a decent job in upgrading Missing in Action to high definition standards. The original movie was undoubtedly shot on cheap stock to minimize the production cost. So to make Missing in Action look this good must have taken considerable effort. The question is whether a movie like this deserves an upgrade of this stature. This is pulpy film-making at best and is therefore would be better served when watched on one of those lovely degraded VHS videocassettes from way back when. The crisp picture only highlights the terrible special effects even more. In the area of extras this Blu-ray has not a lot to offer. There is a theatrical trailer that is hilarious, but that’s it. Then again, when paying ten dollar (or less) for a Blu-ray one must not expect a whole lot.
In the end it is always tricky to get all high and mighty when discussing movies like this. Before you know it you are branded as the sour person who dares to call Missing in Action “a terrible piece of propaganda film-making that is disrespectful to just about everyone who was involved in the Vietnam War”. While all of that is certainly true, this is also a low budget piece of schlocky entertainment that really doesn’t deserve that much scrutiny. Missing in Action is by many considered to be a cult classic, but I don’t agree with that. The absence of an even moderately believable hero makes this much less of a classic than for example Rambo: First Blood Part II with Sylvester Stallone, whose geriatric action funfest The Expendables 2 is probably responsible for the resurrection of Missing in Action on Blu-ray. Thanks a lot, Mr. Stallone.