Before Chuck Norris was the cultural deity he is today, he was just a rising action actor waiting for his big break. Missing In Action, a shameless Rambo ripoff and Chuck’s first film with The Cannon Group, a production company mostly known for B-movies like Death Wish, was that big break. Despite overwhelmingly negative reviews, the film was crazy successful having grossed 15 times it budget, and propelled Chuck into the action star stratosphere.
It is just unfortunate that the movie that helped ignite his legendary career has to be so dreadful.
We all know what we are getting into when we watch a B-movie. Blood, bad acting and overt sexuality. It is those reasons why we find them so enjoyable, the sheer ridiculous of everything. However, there are some topics that need to be taken a little more seriously when turned into films, one of those is war.
In the film Chuck plays, Colonel James Braddock an American officer who escaped a North Vietnamese POW camp after spending seven years as a prisoner. Ten years later, Braddock joins a government investigation team that goes to Ho Chi Minh City to confirm reports that Americans prisoner are still in fact being held captive. After receiving evidence, that their are still POWs, that the government is ignoring, he teams up with his old Army friend, and together, they go on a mission to save the renaming American POWs.
Even though the film is about saving POWs, the director cares little for the experiences of real soldiers. Believing savage carnage and glorified revenge is the only way to honor the survivors of the Vietnam war. Even having the same Vietnamese solider who tortured Braddock return, so that he can exact his personal revenge. Maybe this is what some survivors want to see, the enemy shot, stabbed, and incinerated in battle. Their left behind brethren rescued and returned, even if it is just in a celluloid film. A release for their pent up anger and pain.
I still find that hard to believe, the realities of war are terrible, the aspect of war that should be glorified least is the bloodshed. But time and time again, Missing In Action goes for carnage when it could go for anything else.
Just look at the opening scene, especially the horrific bayonet stabbing:
I take no pleasure in watching men die who believed they were fighting for a just cause, on either side.
The film doesn’t care about the Braddock the man, he is only a vessel for vengeance. With Braddock, internal peace can only be found with more death.
The film does it best to make sure to continue to vilify the Vietnamese, to try to persuade you to enjoy the non-stop violence.
As Braddock stabs into the chest of a Vietnamese assassins, with a hand ax, he stoically proclaims “The fortunes of war”. Braddock is comfortable back in the battlefield, relieved that he once again knows his mission in life, to kill.
I wish I could have enjoyed watching this film, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the misfortunes rather than the fortunes of war.
Missing In Action, is definitely not missing any action, but what it is missing is sensitivity, perspective, cultural commentary or at the very least some storytelling. Unlike Rambo, the movie it ripped off, Missing In Action cares little about the subtext of war, it only wants to exploit the carnage. There are far more interesting things about war than just bullets and bayonets to make a film about. The psyche of a solider, the righteousness or foolishness of war, what it means to be good. Missing in Action ignores all these themes and shoots straight for the temple. As the movie drags on, the action isn’t enough to keep your attention away from the fact the film is as hollow as its bullet shells.
Chuck Norris will always be one of my favorite action heroes, but he has much better films for you to watch.
Missing In Action, is Vietnam revenge film that focuses to much on revenge and not much on anything else, leaving an action stuffed, exploitative and xenophobic film.
“You can escape purgatory, but you can’t escape Hell.” - Priest in My Left Foot
This has been day 16 of 30 VHS In 30 DAYS. My journey to the center of VHS Hell. Special thanks to I Luv Video in Austin, The World’s Largest Video Store, for being my spiritual and literal guide through VHS purgatory.