5/25/09

The LBL Memorial Day Special with Missing In Action

When Memorial Day was established, it was first intended to be a day to remember the dead soldiers of the Union army, but after World War I it was repurposed to be a day of remembrance for any of war’s fallen dead. With this in mind I chose a film about a man who never forgot his fellow soldier, so today I’m talking about a fellow called Braddock and a film called…
Missing in Action (1984) starring Chuck Norris, M. Emmett Walsh, James Hong, and Ernie Ortega. Directed by Joseph Zito. 

Col. James Braddock (Norris) had only recently escaped a Vietnamese prison where he had been held for many years, and now he’s on a mission to save other Americans held hostage. However, the Vietnamese government, through spokesman Gen. Trau (Hong) denies that there are any such prisoners. Enlisting the help of former army buddy Tucker (Walsh), Braddock makes his way deep into the jungles of Vietnam to bring back any men he can find that have been missing all these years. 

The Bugg Speaks

After the success of First Blood (1982), all the studios were looking for a film to capture the same zeitgeist as the first tale of John Rambo. So who better to call in than one of the most jingoistic of action stars, Mr. Chuck Norris, and while Chuck’s film did not have the impact of Stallone’s, it did lead to two more sequels and plenty more chances for Norris to show off his beard. Unlike First Blood’s portrait of a PTSD nightmare, Missing in Action portrays Norris’ Braddock as troubled, but strong enough to overcome it. He’s also strong enough to kick anyone’s ass who gets in his way and magical enough to pull off some incredible feats of daring. In some ways, one might wonder if Missing in Action influenced the broader action in 1985’s Rambo: First Blood Part II

As is usual, Norris plays the tough guy to the hilt, but unlike his earlier films, Missing in Action downplays his martial arts prowess for gunplay and enough explosions to make Michael Bay jealous. Braddock seems to mope about most of the time if he doesn’t have a gun in his hand, but he does show a few lighter moments that saved the story from getting monotonous. He also likes to change his shirt, and I do mean a lot. When I mentioned this to my wife, she informed me that women used to quite like Chuck, but I found it hard to believe that many women swooned over a man with that much orange hair on his body. At any rate Norris goes though at least a half dozen onscreen costume changes which, in its own rite, becomes quite funny after a bit. 

Missing In Action also features a few of my favorite character actors. Gen. Trau is played by James Hong who has long been a fixture in Hollywood films anytime there’s a call for a thin, creepy Asian actor, but many may know him best as the diabolical David Lo Pan in the classic Big Trouble in Little China. Then you have M. Emmett Walsh, the reliable character actor that I consider something of a spiritual brother to Joe Don Baker. Walsh may be best known for his work in Blade Runner or as the sniper out to get Steve Martin in The Jerk. In Missing in Action he provides some comic relief as Braddock’s army buddy, and he is a welcome relief from Norris’ increasingly serious tone as the film goes on. 

The film starts rather slow with over an hour devoted to setting up both Braddock’s character and the conflict with the Vietnamese, but once you get past that point the film kicks into high octane mode and it revels in explosions and gun battles that get pretty exciting and ludicrous. My favorite bit of action silliness has to be when the baddies think they have killed Braddock in a river, and he rises (in slow motion of course) from the water while firing his M-16 for all that it’s worth. It’s the perfect example of the excess of the ‘80’s action hero. Not only is it unbelievable, the way it’s played out is reminiscent of how one might film a bikini clad goddess rising from the water. 

This is a film with a serious message, and I for one would never make light of the plight of any soldiers who are missing or imprisoned in a foreign land. The problem is how seriously can you take a message when the film is adorned with stereotypically bad Vietnamese, pyrotechnics for the sake of spectacle, and a man who changes his shirt so often you’re not sure if he’s a clothes horse or just get’s that smelly that fast? I have yet to see the sequels, but my wife who has tells me that they just get more over the top and ludicrous as the story goes on which hardly seems possible. Missing in Action does not rank up there with the greats of ‘80’s action cinema, and it seems to me that by this time Norris had already left the best of his work behind him. It’s not a bad film, but if you’re going to remember the soldiers, at least give them something great to be remembered by. 

Bugg Rating 


3 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. I don't have much liking for these Cannon films of the 1980s, but those Chuck Norris jeans… pop-culture artifact brilliance! I couldn't stop laughing.

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  3. No doubt about the jeans. What I wouldn't do for a pair, it would be such a relief not having my legs bound by ordinary jeans.

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