When discussing something like 'Missing in Action,' I could spend a good amount of time spewing some intellectual rhetoric about it feeding the collective consciousness of audiences in early 1980s America. The story of a one-man army quietly infiltrating enemy lines is a fantasy that was perfectly in tune with people's resentment over the failures of the Vietnam War. It's gung-ho machismo and unabashed patriotism, much of which is now pretty funny from a modern standpoint, carries with it a strange, underlying layer of redemption. While 'Apocalypse Now' and 'Platoon' confronted the horrors of the war, 'Missing in Action,' 'Rambo II' and others displayed a deep-seated longing to not be the losers of that confrontation, reclaiming and celebrating a nation's sense of masculinity.
I could keep rambling on and on from this perspective, which is my primary interest in this cult favorite from Cannon Films, but that's not the reason you're reading this. When talking about a movie starring Chuck Norris, we don't want some mumbo-jumbo about the movie's cultural importance in the history of film. We want to see women, guys having their butts handed to them, big guns, and even bigger explosions. And that's okay too. It's what we've come to expect of anything with the martial-arts legend in the lead role; I'm even a weird fan of Norris's Hong Kong actioner, 'Forced Vengeance.' So, does the war movie still deliver the goods nearly thirty years later? The short answer is, "Hellz, yeah!" But not without some hilarious moments which by today's standards are cornball clichés.
The corniness kicks off immediately in the opening battle sequence with a small group of soldiers scrambling to a helicopter pick-up point. Guns a-blazing and scattering corpses across the jungle floors, Norris in his indelible role as Col. James Braddock leads the way as every bullet appears to miss him completely — or perhaps bounce off him because they seem to hit everyone else nearby. Braddock also appears to be the only one capable of throwing a grenade in just the right spot for maximum explosion. In the middle of this bloody skirmish, he stops for a moment to give the thumbs-up to some dude — who returns the gesture! — just seconds before he's suddenly gunned down. I can't believe we actually thought that was cool back then.
It's all good stuff to be sure, playing to both our boyhood fancies of manliness and our thirst for stirring, outrageous action in equal measure. But sadly, it hasn't aged very well, which takes away a great deal of gravitas from the story's intentions. Braddock traveling to Ho Chi Minh City with Ann (Lenore Kasdorf) is now an obvious excuse for putting the plot into motion, even if it does take its sweet time to get there. After gathering the requisite information, the former POW recruits his old Army buddy Tuck (M. Emmet Walsh) in Thailand and gathers some heavy artillery. All the while, some thugs in sunglasses keep trying to kill him. By the time we finally make it to the breakout, the action-packed rescue feels rushed and ultimately unsatisfying considering everything that preceded it.
And yet, 'Missing in Action' still manages to entertain with its trite, cliché-ridden badness. Four decades later, the mostly unintentional twinge of xenophobia in its portrayal of the Vietnamese people is also a bit more apparent, further dating the film as a product of its time — again, this is where the intellectual mumbo-jumbo would come in. More to the point, this B-movie actioner directed by Joseph Zito ('The Prowler,' 'Red Scorpion') has a cheap imitation of 'Rambo' vibe to it that can't be ignored. But if you can overlook the several flaws seen throughout the entire production, this cult Chuck Norris favorite can be fairly entertaining, even if for the cheese-factor alone because as cheese lovers around the world know: the stinker the cheese, the better.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
MGM and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment bring 'Missing in Action' to Blu-ray as a Wal-Mart exclusive on a Region Free, BD50 disc inside a blue eco-vortex keepcase. At startup, the disc goes straight to the movie without trailers or a main menu window. Menu options are retrieved by pushing the button on the remote, which then pops up along the bottom of the screen.
'Missing in Action' shoots its way unto Blu-ray with a surprisingly good AVC-encoded transfer, looking like a fresh remaster from the best available elements.
Presented in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the picture has a new spring in its step, displaying strong definition of fine lines around clothing and the surrounding jungle foliage. Facial complexions appear natural with lots of textural details in close-up while colors are cleanly rendered with plenty of bold greens and reds. Contrast is mostly well-balanced and crisp, but a couple scenes reveal a slight boost in the levels, though they're far from a distraction. Blacks are fairly deep and attractive for a nearly thirty-year-old movie, and shadow details are perceptible in the several nighttime sequences. There's a visible grain structure that's thin and consistent for the most part, but there are instances when it's more pronounced.
Overall, the movie arrives with good-looking high-def video.
Chuck Norris also blasts his way into the world of high-rez audio with a good mono DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that stays true to its original design. The lossless mix actually manages to deliver a nice soundstage with a great deal of warmth and presence. Discrete effects fill and move across the screen effectively with an excellent, detailed mid-range that never falters. Vocals are precise and intelligible in the center although a few mumbled words are difficult to hear accurately. Bass is somewhat of a mixed bag, feeling hearty and palpable in the Thailand scene with dance music playing in the background but suddenly coming off wimpy and mostly empty during much of the explosive action. Still, it's not enough to ruin the film's enjoyment, but somehow, I imagine the track could be slightly stronger for a war movie.
Only available supplement is the movie's original theatrical preview.
Starring Chuck Norris as the indelible Col. James Braddock, 'Missing in Action' comes with several flaws, most notably its negative portrayal of Asian people and feeling very much like a cheap imitation of 'Rambo.' But if we can overlook those things, we find an amusing, cliché-ridden B-movie actioner that delivers just as many laughs as its serious overtones of machismo. The Blu-ray arrives with great-looking video and good audio, but the special features are sadly missing in action (pun dumbly intended). Fans will be happy with the purchase nonetheless and others will want to give it a rent first.