Let’s get it out there: Missing in Action is bad, really bad, but that probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone. As some of you will know by now I grew up in the ’80s and that’s when my movie sensibilities were formed. This meant growing up on masterpieces like E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark, Back to the Future and so much more. It was a beautiful time to discover movies as a kid. It was also a time when cheap film-making became even more prolific than before because of the wide acceptance of the VCR. This meant that besides good movies I also saw my fair share of terrible movies. One of which was Missing in Action, although I must admit I don’t remember much of that initial viewing.
Some of the worst offenders of the ’80s bad movie boom were Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, the guys who bought The Cannon Group in 1979 to indulge their adolescent fantasies of making movies in Hollywood. The result was a great many B-movies that were released during the ’80s that included several Death Wish sequels, the American Ninja series, Sylvester Stallone’s Over the Top and Cobra and most famously a lot of movies with Chuck Norris, possibly one of the worst actors ever. His most successful movie was Missing in Action, which rode the wave of First Blood‘s success and even (literally) took a page from Rambo’s playbook.
Around that time rumors went around that there were still prisoners of war left behind in Vietnam somewhere in the jungle. An intriguing subject that was picked up by none other than James Cameron. He wrote a treatment about an ex-soldier going back to Vietnam to see of he could find these lost souls. The result would eventually be Rambo: First Blood Part 2, but not after the treatment passed through the hands of Golan-Globus. They figured they could also make a movie like this, but with their own muscleman Chuck Norris. They decided to put the first two Missing in Action movies directly into production in order to get them into the theaters before Rambo would and avoid some legal trouble.
Missing in Action turned out to be something of a hit. It undoubtedly made its money back and it managed to entertain a lot of people. Some still look back on it fondly, Lord knows why. I was definitely not one of them. I happen to like the Rambo movies much more, because as bad as the Stallone vehicles get Missing in Action tops it in sheer awfulness. There are some clever sequences, but those are few and far between. Like when Norris must leave his hotel in secret to pay a visit to a nefarious General and sneak back into the hotel. It is a fun sequence, but that is all there is to it. The rest is just ludicrous. For example: Norris tries to escape from a group of thugs and reach the boat he needs to take up the river to the camp. Instead of jumping on the boat and make his escape he jumps in a truck to start a whole new chase sequence that is totally out of context and just there to be filler. It is astonishing how badly written this movie is.
From that point on the movie is really just one big orgy of gunfire, stupid dialogue and senseless violence. The culmination of which comes when Norris rises in slow motion up from the dirty river water with an enormous gun in his hand to take out (supposedly very stealthy) three guards. There is literally nothing here to lend the movie a shred of credibility. Not that we expected that from Missing in Action, but you always hold out hope for that small glimmer of something that could resemble a decent movie. In the end Missing in Action just makes Rambo look like The Deer Hunter. It should be forgotten and never brought up again.