Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Film Review: MISSING IN ACTION (1984, Joseph Zito)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 101 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Director Joseph Zito (THE PROWLER, INVASION U.S.A.). Starring Chuck Norris, M. Emmet Walsh (CRITTERS, BLOOD SIMPLE), James Hong (BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA). William Sanderson (BLADE RUNNER, DEADWOOD) was supposed to play the M. Emmet Walsh part, but turned it down. Features an original song by Ice-T.
Tag-lines: "The war's not over until the last man comes home."
Best one-liner: "Damn right!"

First off, this is not a RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II (1985) rip-off. RAMBO (which had, literally, 20 times the budget) is a MISSING IN ACTION (1984) rip-off. (Well, unless you subscribe to the account that Cannon read Cameron's treatment for RAMBO and rushed MIA into production in order to preemptively rip it off. But who would believe that? Cannon is like the classiest company ever.) People loved MISSING IN ACTION, and it became Cannon's highest grossing endeavor.

Chuck ended up collaborating with his buddies at Cannon nine times over the course of the next ten years.

The magically jaw-dropping plot is this: Norris tags along on a diplomatic trip to Vietnam, just so he can sneak away and free some POWs that these godless commie bastards have been smugly keeping for no reason whatsoever, other than that they're just a vindictive, duplicitous race of people that don't deserve to shake your hand, not ever.

Chuck's Braddock is so audacious that he makes Rambo look like Casper Milquetoast. Rambo is tortured by his memories. Rambo cries. Braddock walks a straight line through this movie from start to freeze-frame finish. Never changes, never questions, never wavers.

But it's the little (Golan/Globus) touches that really make this work: Viet Cong bringing megaphones into battle so they can taunt American G.I.s, Norris karate kicking a TV, a man shot as he gives the thumbs-up, James Hong (Lo Pan in BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA) as a slimy villain who lowballs Braddock by saying HE's the war criminal, Ice T's techno (!) beats that play incessantly throughout all Bangkok scenes, a bulletproof dinghy, and crabby acting legend M. Emmet Walsh as Braddock's greasy old war buddy!

The film has a fairly odd sense of humor (or lack thereof), as well– situations normally played for laughs are presented in an odd, matter-of-fact manner. For example, Chuck's Thai cabbie (actually a Vietnamese assassin) tries to kill him, so Chuck strangles him and escapes the cab. Immediately thereafter, a Thai couple enters the cab and gives him an address. The camera lingers for a moment, and then we cut back to Chuck without any resolution, not even their discovery that their cabbie is dead. Typically, it would be a couple of over the top American tourists getting in the cab, saying some ludicrous one-liner, and then being surprised by his corpse, but here the sense is one of vague concern, as if 'Oh, well, I guess those people aren't going to get to their destination.'

Chuck tools around Saigon killing people, dressed in black- this may as well be a Cannon ninja movie.

His idea of negotiating is to aim a gun at you with a blank expression on his face. At a cocktail party he orders a beer, no glass, then insults some dignitaries. When he blows up the camp, we see the greatest explosions in Golan/Globus history (though, to be fair, I think it's one awesome explosion filmed from several different angles and shown repeatedly). Perhaps the coup de grace is Cannon working in a Thai hooker singing, basically a cappella (with minimal accordion accompaniment), Rod Stewart's "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?" Yeah, this is pretty terrific. Four stars.

[Side note: in his hotel, Norris watches a SPIDERMAN cartoon marathon, foreshadowing the ill-fated Cannon Spidey movie, designed to be helmed by MISSING IN ACTION director Joseph Zito.]

-Sean Gill

1 comment:

Buck Atwater said...

I love the part near the beginning while he is staring out the window of his apartment while we can hear the Spider Man cartoon in the background. Eventually it gets his attention and it almost seems like seeing the Shocker escape on the helicopter makes him want to go back to Vietnam.

Still, of the 3 MIA's I think this is the weakest. I like it overall, but 2 has the best villain and 3 is the most fun.