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Missing in Action 2: The Beginning
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by Jack Sommersby

"A Not-Quite-Recommendable Prequel"
2 stars

While it's not an overall success, it is preferable to the other Golan-Globus-produced Norris actioner "Invasion U.S.A." that was released the same year.

Missing in Action 2: The Beginning might not be recommendable, but it's certainly better than its atrocious predecessor, which was quite the case study in cinematic incompetence. Instead of the talent-deprived hack Joseph Zito at the helm, the director this time around is Lance Hool, who at least demonstrates a semi-instinct for expressive film language -- unlike Zito, he isn't afraid to move the damn camera around, for one thing. He can't do anything about the built-in limitations of the bare-bones plot, but he does give it semblances of verity and keeps the thing churning along amiably enough. Reportedly, the movie was filmed before the original and was intended to be released in theatres before that, but that was flip-flopped so it was a bit curious as to how the original's screenplay could be credited based on characters who supposedly didn't previously exist. It's the Vietnam War, and Norris's stalwart Col. James Braddock and his platoon are captured and incarcerated by the unrelentingly vicious Vietcong. (Don't look for any sociopolitical nuances concerning this conflict in this jingoistic cinematic exercise, because you won't get any.) With a deplorable daily existence in a prisoners-of-war camp involving hard physical labor, prevailing hunger, and rampant malaria, the question is asked by the sadistic Col. Yin (Soon-Tek Oh) why Braddock doesn't just cede to his demand that he record an official confession claiming of war crimes by his country that has seen fit to leave him and his fellow soldiers behind. Braddock refuses because he knows Yin will then have no reason to keep them alive; and also out of patriotic pride he won't sell out his country under his steadfast belief that the United States' mission still means something. But the morale of the men has dwindled over time, and even though the majority of them still support Braddock's position, when one is near death from malaria, and medicine can supposedly be attained with the confession, Braddock's loyalty to the flag, at the expense of his men, is questioned. And there's a Judas among them: a Captain Nester (Steven Williams), who's been given special treatment in the way of clean clothes, decent food and lodging; he, too, tries persuading Braddock, though he's ignorant to the fact that he'll be worthless to Yin as soon as Braddock confesses. Eventually, there's the inevitable rebellion and big escape from the camp with thirty minutes to go in the running time, and, oddly enough, it's the movie's least successful section.

It would be foolish to aver that the screenplay-by-committee (three writers are credited) is anything particularly complex, but for a while we're held by the daily routines of the men in their grueling living conditions and the emotional bond that holds them together. Unlike in the original, which provided maybe three lines of dialogue total for the POWs Braddock finally rescued, how they struggle to remain internally strong in their hellish milieu is affecting stuff because they're given a proper amount of screen time and functional dialogue minus any grandiose attitudinizing -- there are no going-for-the-Oscar big speeches, no uncouth extreme close-up shots of the men's faces with swelling angelic chords on the soundtrack. (Hool, unwilling to milk these scenes for easy pathos, is wise enough to give the relatively-unknown actors enough aesthetic space to deepen their characters and feel through their line readings.) But it's Norris's unforced quiet authority that's the center of it all, and he's a lot more relaxed here than in his previous Braddock interpretation. Rather than a stoic stiff, he's a flesh-and-blood hero shouldering the fate of his men and the honor of his country at the same time, and Norris conveys the moral weight Braddock's been forced to carry. Still, even taking into account the solidity of these parts, they're not as expansive as they could be because everything's been structured to culminate in a series of action sequences, which are no more than functional. In fact, given the logistics of the camp and the ratio of armed guards and POWs, it's not hard to believe that Braddock is finally able to rise up against his captors, but that he hasn't been able to anytime he wanted in the last several years. There's a dumb subplot involving a comrade of Yin's who periodically arrives in a helicopter with supplies and whores just to serve as a story gimmick so Braddock can eventually commandeer it and fly his men out. Yin is an uninteresting, one-dimensional baddie who might as well have cloven hooves and a pointed tail. Nester is nothing more than a mouthpiece incorporated into the mix just to provide an unnecessary element of conflict. And Hool, making his debut behind the camera after a couple of stints as a producer for a couple of Charles Bronson movies, just isn't able to generate much excitement when the emphasis switches over to wall-to-wall action. (His best touch is in the first scene when he freezes the frame as each of Braddock's men bail out of a damaged helicopter, showing their military dossier with name, rank and birthplace.) So despite some plusses, Missing in Action 2: The Beginning, an honorable nice try.

Check out "Braddock: Missing in Action III" instead.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=24281&reviewer=327
originally posted: 08/24/12 12:12:37
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User Comments

9/02/12 Charles Tatum Still not good, but yeah, better than Invasion USA 1 stars
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  02-Mar-1985 (R)
  DVD: 29-Aug-2006



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