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Missing in Action
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by Jack Sommersby

"Noxious Norris Actioner"
1 stars

Well, it's one of those cases where the first in a film trilogy is actually the least of them.

With a no-talent director like Joseph Zito at the helm, the poorly written Chuck Norris star vehicle Missing in Action manages to squeeze virtually zero entertainment value out of its seemingly foolproof story premise. Zito's previous forays into cinematic garbage were the listlessly boring slasher pictures The Prowler and Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, and he proves himself just as inept in the fundamentals of this genre as the last one -- without the slightest inkling of how to use the camera to give a screenplay a valid visual interpretation, preferring instead to just shoot a bunch of nondescript images in the mere hope that what he throws out on the screen sticks, he gives the audience all the more reason to favor the printed page over celluloid. (If ever there were a reason for a studio head to assign directorial duties to the messenger boy than incompetents like Zito, Missing in Action surely is it.) Then again, James Bruner, who co-wrote the excellent Norris action movie An Eye for an Eye from three years prior, hasn't exactly given Zito the most supple of material to start with -- apparently, coming up with Norris saving some American soldiers still being held in a Vietnamese prison camp was enough, even though Norris's decorated Vietnam-vet Colonel James Braddock doesn't actually start doing this until an entire hour into the running time, and even then it's about as exciting as watching some drunk pee on the sidewalk. Braddock returned to the United States a famous war hero after having escaped from a POW camp after years of capture, but since then he's experienced troublesome flashbacks and hasn't really gotten on with his life. After refusing numerous requests from a congressional committee formed to investigate whether missing-in-action soldiers are in fact being held captive by Vietnam officials who still deem the U.S. guilty of war crimes and liable for billions of dollars in unpaid war reparations, he finally accepts. Arriving in Saigon with a stiff of a male senator and his sympathetic female aide along for the ride, Braddock doesn't take long in ruffling feathers, telling a Vietnamese general off in a televised hearing where the deck has been stacked against him with coached peasants claiming invented atrocities committed against them by Braddock when he was in-country. Seeing the futileness to the whole thing, Braddock sneaks out of his guarded hotel and eventually into the residence of the conniving general, forces from him at knifepoint the location of a POW camp, and then proceeds in contacting an old army buddy still in the city to equip him with a boat and all the weaponry necessary to get the job done.

In a telling example of Zito's skewed sense of proportion, an inordinate amount of time is spent showing Braddock climbing down the outside of his hotel and even more time later of him climbing back up and into his room before he's checked on, and the timing of it all is so lackadaisical that, for all the nonexistent suspense derived from it, he might as well be horsing around on a jungle gym. From there we get a ho-hum bar fight, a terribly staged car chase at a pier with Braddock leaping from his vehicle and into the water and then onto a boat, and then we finally get to the jungles of Vietnam, but by this time we've become so discombobulated, with Braddock's mission strained to the point of holding not an iota of immediacy, the periodical checking of one's watch, rather than being glued to proceedings, is the result. It's putting it way too kindly that Zito can't stage an action sequence to save his life: they're choppily choreographed, drearily juxtaposed; and unless I blinked, the static-stationary-like camera placements hardly ever pan or track. (Rarely has an action movie felt like it was existing in a fugue state.) Maybe if Braddock were a fascinating larger-than-life hero we could forgive some of the hokum surrounding him, but Norris, though attractively bearded, keeps his performance too held in, and he isn't much fun; which is a shame because he was appealing and got a real rapport going with the viewer in not just An Eye for an Eye but in the acceptable outings A Force of One and The Octagon. He doesn't have a whole lot of range, but he's got personality, easygoingness -- far from a cardboard, overly stoic action figure. But the character's been written without any corners, just unfettered righteousness, and the sub-par cinematographer, Jose Fernandez, hasn't done Norris any favors with all the unflattering lighting, with the city streets of Saigon and the jungle possessing truly dullish color palettes. (The only one in the cast who manages to come through is the always-wonderful M. Emmett Walsh, who plays Braddock's rascally-mischievous ally with his customary fervor.) This being a mainstream movie, of course the soldiers are located in record time and saved; and, of course, with the built-in sympathy for their long-suffering plight, we can't help but be moved. Yet Missing in Action isn't the kind of exhilarating experience worthy of them. Instead of giving these men more than just a few seconds of real dialogue, Zito did find the time to indulge in a repellent bit where one of the Vietcong captors rapes a pre-teen village girl, indicative of a director regressed back to his former exploitive ways that packs quite the noxious punch. The movie is Uncommon Valor without brains, not to mention taste.

"Rambo: First Blood Part II" which came out the year after, is oodles better. Then again, it has a director who actually knew what the hell he was doing.

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originally posted: 08/24/12 22:26:48
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Trilogy Starters: For more in the Trilogy Starters series, click here.

User Comments

9/03/12 Charles Tatum Truly awful stuff. 1 stars
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  16-Nov-1984 (R)
  DVD: 29-Aug-2006



Directed by
  Joseph Zito

Written by
  James Bruner
  William Gray

  Chuck Norris
  M. Emmet Walsh
  David Tress
  Lenore Kasdorf
  James Hong
  Ernie Ortega

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