Thursday, January 23, 2014

My Favorite Era: Missing in Action 2: The Beginning (1985)

Missing in Action 2: The Beginning (1985)

This is probably the worst movie I will cover in this series but there are a few good reasons I wanted to highlight it.  First of all, the film is just hilariously bad with a grimy look, bad acting and pacing that makes you think you're in a "Groundhog Day" type scenario.  Second, since I already covered one of the "good" Cannon sequels when I did American Ninja 2, I thought it only fair that I take on one of their stinkers... Plus I wanted to toss in another Chuck Norris movie and this one fit the bill.  It's going to be a quick, dirty ride.  Let's take a closer look.
  • First off, a little background.  Even though this was marketed as the second Missing in Action film, it was intended to be the first.  Both films were shot back to back and after taking a good look at them, it was decided to release the second one first as it was better.  Given that what ended up being the first one isn't exactly earth-shattering (though it's not that bad and as an overall film is much better than this one), that isn't exactly reassuring.
  •  To get the plot out of the way, it tells the story of Colonel James Braddock (Big bad Chuck) and his escape from a POW camp in Vietnam.  It was alluded to in the first film and here we get to see it in all its glory.  Your mileage may vary on how much glory there is.
  • Right off the bat we get an idea of what we're in for just with the overall picture quality.  The first film was shot rather nicely by genre vet Joseph Zito who has generally always tried to make his films look good.  In the case of the first one, even though the budget probably wasn't too large, it still looked slick and reasonably expensive.
  • This film, however, has a sort of grimy grindhouse quality to it.  The colors are somewhat faded, the overall aesthetic makes the film look cheap and tawdry (which it is) and I can only imagine what seeing this on the big screen must have been like.  I'm guessing a pressing need to take a shower afterwards was a possibility.
  • That being said, the overall look does add to the film to a degree as you can really see the sweat coming off of everybody.  It gives the film a real gritty feel that is about the only thing apart from the final scene that truly works.
  • The main problem the film has is that for the first fifty minutes or so, it laps itself at least three or four times.  We will get lots of shots of Braddock and his men suffering while their captor, camp leader Colonel Yin (Soon-Tek Oh) delivers slimy, menacing dialogue which will be followed by some horrific atrocity like putting a rat in a bag and placing it over a guy's head.  This happens almost continuously for the first half and change, to the point where recapping it is just an exercise in repetition.
  • Needless to say, Chuck Norris is given very little to outside of making defiant speeches to the bad guy, fighting and killing.  In that regard, he does fairly well for himself.  Steven Williams is also pretty good as Nestor, a fellow soldier who has chosen to cooperate in order to have some measure of comfort.   Naturally, he goes back to the good guys towards the end and gets shot up real good.  Not so good is the always fun to see Toru Tanaka as a guard.  He.. Well, he doesn't do jack shit, sadly.  Still, it was a payday for him so there is that.
  • While the acting is pretty atrocious all the way around, there is one shining light and that is Soon-Tek Oh as the evil Colonel.  Actually, I'm understating things a bit.  He's not evil, he's EEEVIIILLL!  I swear, the man hams it up to a remarkable degree.  He has one or two moments where he nearly reaches "Raul Julia in Street Fighter" levels.  His first speech has him actually doing the "milking the giant cow" hand motion.  The man knows exactly how crappy the movie he is acting in is and he is hell bent on giving any poor bastard watching it at least something to enjoy while the film laps itself for nearly an hour.
  • Things pick up around the 53 minute mark as Braddock finally begins his escape.  The action is pretty damn good, nicely brutal to match the rest of the film.  Granted, not a hell of a lot in the way of focus but it's still Chuck Norris doing what he does best, lots of stuff blows up and plenty of soldiers get killed so there is that.
  • Not for nothing, but the film at least gives the viewer a rousing ending.  After fifty minutes of depressing torment and unpleasantness (though you have to see Chuck vs. a rat in a bag to believe it, it goes pretty much how you would expect) and thirty minutes of setup/random action, we are treated to a really good, extended fight between Braddock and Colonel Yin.  It's a little more even a match than one would guess but it does quickly degenerate into Braddock basically beating the guy to the point where he can barely move.  It's a fine ending for a really good villain.  Blowing up his hut as the credits roll is just the icing on the cake.
Missing in Action 2 is actually pretty damn watchable for the most part, though you do need a strong stomach and a lot of patience to get through the first fifty three minutes.  It is sort of a slog to get through but it's all so cheesy and over the top that you have to laugh at how earnest it is in its technique.  Once the action kicks in, it's quite enjoyable and the final fight is quite good.  Overall, it's not one of Cannon's best, or Chuck Norris' for that matter.  Still worth it for the laughs.

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About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.