Missing in Action (1984)
By: Paul Ryan on March 17, 2010  | 
MGM | Region 4, PAL | 1.85:1 (Non-anamorphic) | English DD 2.0 | 97 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Joseph Zito
Starring: Chuck Norris, M. Emmet Walsh, James Hong, Lenore Kasdorf
Screenplay: James Bruner
Country: USA
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U.S. Army Colonel James T. Braddock (karate champ, occasional FOX News pundit and internet meme extraordinaire Chuck Norris), was taken prisoner during the Vietnam War, spending seven long years in a detention camp. Upon escaping, his calls for the his government to rescue the remaining American prisoners – all still declared Missing In Action – result in little progress (what with lily-livered politicians being into namby-pamby things like diplomacy). Recruited by Senator Porter (Dan Tress) and his comely aide Ann (Lenore Kasdorf), Braddock reluctantly attends talks with the communist regime in Ho Chi Minh City. Needless to say, things don't go well, with Braddock publicly – and falsely - accused of war crimes by nefarious Commie General Tran (James Hong). A botched assassination attempt and one dead General later, Braddock is deported to Thailand, but doesn't take matters lying down. Teaming up with a comic relief Nam' buddy (M. Emmet Walsh) and a black market arms dealer (Cossie Costa), Braddock blasts his way back into Vietnam to bust out his comrades-in-arms…

Directed by eighties gore-and-action specialist Joseph Zito (Friday the 13th – The Final Chapter, Red Scorpion), Missing In Action is one of the best-known examples of the decade's wave of post-Vietnam revenge fantasies. Shot in the Philippines (passing for both Vietnam and Thailand), there is plenty of sweaty, occasionally sleazy atmosphere to soak up, with good use of locations. While there are some token efforts to show that not all Vietnamese are bad, the bulk of the Vietnamese characters exist to glower sadistically, laugh maniacally, act really stupidly, and get blown up/stabbed/shot/generally fucked up with righteous fury. Leaving the politics aside (and frankly, its hard for me to get worked up about that aspect in a film this silly), the action scenes – particularly in the final half-hour – are undeniably well-staged and shot. However, there's an awful lot of dull talk between the flourishes of sleaze (dig that strip joint scene) and slaughter (such as Chuck's hilarious slow-mo aquatic machine-gunning of three commie soldiers), which slows the film right down. The air of solemnity to all this revisionist score-settling (Norris dedicated this film to his brother Weiland, a soldier who was killed in action in Vietnam in 1970) sits uneasily with the over-the-top violence. What should be at the very least a beer-and-pizza guilty pleasure ends up aimless and flat.

By the way, look fast in the closing credits for a stuntman by the name of "J. Claude Van Damme" and a keep an ear out for couple of rap tunes by none other than Ice-T.
An old-school action flick gets an old–school transfer, in this 4x3 letterbox (mislabeled as 16x9 on the cover) presentation. There's a light layer of grain throughout, some pronounced telecine wobble (especially apparent during the opening credits), and colours are a tad dull. Still, this is undoubtedly better than the film ever looked on VHS. There are fourteen subtitle streams available, suggesting this was produced as a one-size-fits-all release for multiple territories. Be sure to hit stop as soon as the end credits finish, otherwise the disc defaults to a long series of copyright screens (as is common with many MGM titles) which cannot be skipped, fast-forwarded or even stopped (unless you press eject), and it's very annoying.
The 2.0 English track is nothing great, but clear all the way. The additional tracks in German, French, Spanish and Italian all sound audibly flatter by comparison.
Extra Features
Charlie got the drop on any bonus material. Even the theatrical trailer (listed on the cover slick) stepped on a landmine less than a week before it was supposed to be shipped home. Tragic.
The Verdict
A bit less flag-waving than you'd expect, Missing in Action is also surprisingly quite dull. While the action itself is pretty good, there's a lot of flab to dig through to get to it. MGM's DVD presentation sports a mediocre video transfer and zero extras.
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score

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