Missing in Action (1984)
Missing in Action (1984)

Genre: Action Running Time: 1 hr. 41 min.

Release Date: November 16th, 1984 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Joseph Zito Actors: Chuck Norris, M. Emmet Walsh, David Tress, Lenore Kasdorf, James Hong, Ernie Ortega, Pierrino Mascarino, Joseph Carberry, Bella Flores




n the midst of Nam, bullets blaze and mortar shells explode around Colonel James Thomas Braddock (Chuck Norris, the only one without a helmet) and his squadron of grunts as they make their way through dense forests and shallow streams to a helicopter pickup zone. The majority of the American soldiers are either retrieved or killed; Braddock, left on the ground, avenges two bayoneted comrades by hurling himself, with live grenades, onto the enemy. But it’s all a dream as Braddock awakes in a lonely apartment, with the TV on and the news commenting on the numerous Army men still missing in action. He continues to have flashbacks to his traumatic war experiences, remembering his hellish time as a POW.

Braddock is one of the most outspoken proponents of the idea that MIA troops are still being held in Vietnamese prison camps, but his unpopular views leave him isolated and disliked. Haunted by his memories, he finally agrees to go back to the People’s Republic of Vietnam, escorted by Senator Maxwell Porter (David Tress) and liaison Ann Fitzgerald (Lenore Kasdorf), to prove that his theories are correct. At a diplomatic meeting with General Tran (James Hong), Braddock is falsely accused of crimes against innocent women, children, and the elderly, and told he was held in captivity for being an atrocious criminal – not a prisoner of war.

Tran and Braddock trade insults before the veteran sneaks out of his hotel to poke around Saigon. Stealthily, he locates Tran’s quarters and forces him to reveal the location of the remaining MIA American troops, who are supposedly housed in a secret camp approximately eight kilometers from the coast. Dodging machinegun fire, armored jeeps, and plenty of guards, he manages to circumvent the suspicious Vietnamese servicemen and hired killers hot on his tail to locate Madame Pearl’s whorehouse patron Jack Tucker (M. Emmet Walsh), a boat captain who can take Braddock upriver for a venturesome rescue mission.

There’s something a little silly about a GI giving a zealous thumbs up just before being gunned down, hand first. But Norris is, appropriately, a sincere one-man army as he infiltrates heavily defended compounds, scales buildings, wields massive firepower, mans a bulletproof raft, shrugs off grenade launcher explosions, and coordinates backup plans with undisclosed but evidently sizable monetary resources. Unrealistically yet amusingly, he’s capable of outsmarting assassins, ambushing platoons, disarming booby traps, and single-handedly waging war with a backpack full of munitions against an entire military encampment.

The stunts aren’t choreographed in a particularly exciting fashion (though a car chase sequence has its moments), but the action is consistent and the pacing doesn’t bore. Destruction and shootouts occur at regular intervals, leaving few moments of calm as Braddock tears through the locales and combats new enemies at every turn. But Norris doesn’t have much personality (and he’s given no snappy one-liners) as he sets about accomplishing his mission, routinely failing to appear more badass than the competition (Schwarzenegger, Stallone, Willis) and unable to inspire cheers (save for a single slow-motion rise from murky waters, a shot decidedly less artistic than “Apocalypse Now”). “Missing in Action” may be one of his more notable films, but Chuck Norris is still very much a second-rate action hero.

– Mike Massie

  • 5/10