Remember how in Missing in Action 2: The Beginning, Colonel James Braddock was captured in Vietnam and held as a POW until he made his daring (and quite explosive) escape? And how the dastardly camp director tortured Braddock with news that his wife back in the States had him declared legally dead and was going to marry someone else? He even nonsensically burned a letter she purportedly wrote to him while Braddock could only watch helplessly! How could you forget something so dramatic and heart-wrenching from Braddock’s secret origin movie?
Well you need to totally forget it all, solider! Because it never freaking happened! Braddock is always one step ahead of Charlie and that includes spreading a bunch of disinfo about his personal life, too!
In Braddock: Missing in Action III we finally get the truth and it’s much more personal than some faceless gal who writes letters to secret POW camps! Braddock did in fact have a wife. How could he not when he favors such tight blue jeans? But she was a Vietnamese lady who worked at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon back in 1975!
But how in the devil did America’s most famous MIA POW manage to get married while he was ripping the throat out of a crazed rat with his bare teeth at his prison camp deep in the jungle? Because that didn’t happen either! In a cinema swerve that has to rank with what happened in the middle of Psycho and that one part of The Crying Game, a film series about Chuck Norris being missing in action concludes by portraying a reality where he never was missing in action at all!
But don’t go contacting your state’s Attorney General’s consumer fraud unit yet because there is someone missing in action! Braddock’s wife! Okay, he just think she’s dead, but a priest looks Braddock up in the States a decade latter to tell him that not only is his wife alive, but they also had a son he never knew about! (Is this a Missing in Action movie or an old Bette Davis movie?)
A quick visit from a sinister CIA operative to tell Braddock not to believe the priest’s crazy story immediately makes a believer out of Braddock. Despite the other two movies apparently never having really happened (we have to assume this movie is the truth since it is the final entry of the series and was co-written by Chuck Norris and directed by his brother Aaron) doesn’t mean that Braddock doesn’t instinctively know to copy the same “bring’em back alive” plan he used in the original film.
Immediate flight to Thailand. Check. Look up shady ex-pat buddy in bar. Check. Action scene in Thailand with people trying to prevent Braddock from going back to Nam. Check. Using a kick ass raft to conduct his one man invasion. Check. Plan goes horribly wrong and gets the whole Vietnamese army killed as well as someone close to Braddock. Mega check!
The wife and kid add an extra dimension heretofore unseen in the MIA series, that being unintentional humor. When Braddock first finds his wife, their kid is not that keen on buddying up to his dad. Mrs. Braddock explains that when he was growing up without Braddock there, the kid would find comfort in pretending to talk to Braddock during tough situations, but eventually he stopped believing in Braddock and didn’t talk to him anymore. Dang dude – he’s your dad, not Puff the Magic Dragon!
But no time to worry about all the psychological damage caused by little Van Braddock’s weird fantasy life because he and his new dad are about to be tortured by General Quoc! And Quoc knows he has to turn the evil up several notches if he wants to outdo Colonel Yin from the last film.
Quoc gives it his best shot with an extended torture scene where he tries to force Braddock to lose his balance and thus cause a shotgun to blow Van’s head off. For good measure, he also kidnaps a bunch of Amerasian children from the school that Van goes to. Though he admittedly starts off strong, he fades fast as once Braddock gets the upper hand, he is reduced to yelling Braddock’s name over and over like some bad parody of an evil general.
The final arc in Braddock’s story is fittingly the best as he tears through the jungle, moving heaven and earth to get all those poor unwanted kids to sweet freedom. He saves one from being raped (he stabs, shoots, and blows up the guy – all with the same monstrous gun!), breaks them out of Quoc’s military prison, drives them through the jungle while helicopter gunships attack them nonstop before finally stealing a military transport plane, crashing it near the border and facing down Quoc’s attack helicopter alone.
But Braddock was just blown up and is so injured that he can’t even hold his weapon steady to shoot Quoc down! Then in one of those moments that all fathers and sons who have ever bonded while shooting Commies will understand, Van rushes to his father’s aid and helps him hold the gun so that Quoc can have one final silly scene where he screams in humiliating fashion.
You don’t need to be a film scholar to know that once you’re inexplicably in possession of a portable armory, rescuing kids and shaking off explosions like it was a bad case of food poisoning, you’ve moved on from gritty war hero to 1980s action film hero which usually signifies the end of the line as a character. Putting aside the dopiness of throwing out the previous two movies so that Braddock could go back to Nam again for even more personal reasons, making Braddock a babysitter and saddling him with yet another villain off the evil Vietnamese military officer assembly line is the sort of lazy scripting that can’t help but make you laugh for all the wrong reasons.
While Missing in Action is a great crowd pleasing action movie and Missing in Action 2: The Beginning is a serviceable, if grim and plodding effort somewhat redeemed by its action packed finale, Braddock: Missing in Action III is the Saturday morning cartoon of the series, at once inadvertently goofy (Braddock dumps a dead body out of the co-pliot’s seat and invites his son to sit in the cockpit with him), dimwitted (Braddock’s vague “head for the border with 50 kids scheme” feels not very well thought out to say the least) and numbingly violent, but Chuck and Aaron Norris are canny enough to never let up on the action so that it is at least entertaining in a mindlessly nonstop way.
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