Monday, 3 January 2011

A Chuck Norris / Joseph Zito Double-Bill

It always seemed an absurd notion to me that the Vietnamese government would maintain POW camps holding American soldiers after the war had ended, but who am I to argue with such an idea considering it gave us Rambo: First Blood Part II and 1984's Missing In Action, starring Chuck Norris and directed by Joseph Zito. In the film, Norris plays Braddock, a Vietnam vet who travels with a diplomatic party to Saigon to finally settle the matter of American soldiers still held by the Vietnamese government. Convinced the governement is lying, Braddock heads back into the jungle to finally bring the last of his fellow brothers in arms home...

Cast aside any ideas about Missing In Action being a guilty pleasure, the film simply does what it says on the tin, that being a rollicking good action film. Directed with fizz, energy and economy by Joseph Zito (who directed the gory slasher The Prowler and the best of the Friday the 13th sequels, Part 4: The Final Chapter), the film wastes precious time hurtling from one explosive set piece to another. The central sequence of the film is perhaps the best, when Braddock prepares his mission from Bangkok, featuring some good South East Asian color (a la The Deer Hunter), an excellent dockside car chase and some nifty beatbox music injecting some life into Jay Chattaway's otherwise typical action movie score.

Calling the shots - director Joseph Zito
Chuck Norris turns in a good performance as Braddock - in fairness, the character is a man of few words and Norris at least knows how to run around with machine gun and make it look convincing. Sterling support too from M. Emmet Walsh, and the go-to-guy for Asian villainy James Wong. The film would prove to be a big hit for Cannon, and would birth two sequels of varying quality 1. Still, the original film is a well deserved minor classic of 80's Exploitation Cinema, although in hindsight Missing In Action now looks increasingly like a dry run for the next Norris/Zito collaboration, the epic undertakings of 1985's Invasion USA 2.

For Invasion USA, Cannon brought the war back home with a bang. Christmas has been cancelled in Miami as an army of terrorists, led by some nefarious Russians (naturally) are cutting a swathe of destruction across the Southern state in an effort to engulf the US in a state of chaos and the eventual destruction of the American way of life. Fear not as Chuck Norris is back, playing Matt Hunter, a hard-ass ex. CIA operative who doesn't take this kind of messing lying down, especially with a few scores to settle and some unfinished business involving the terrorist leader...

Invasion USA was a big Cannon production and it looks it - with an impressive array of extras, copious amounts of military hardware, vehicles of all description, usually meeting a sticky demise and large elaborate sets that are riddled with bullets and blown to bits with wild abandon. Joseph Zito, back in the director's chair again does a fine job orchestrating the non-stop carnage and the film is well paced (just under 2 hours no less!) and looks good, especially the opening sequences set in the Florida everglades. Chuck Norris' performance is pitched at the same level as Missing In Action, his character here interchangeable from Braddock, and is best described, to borrow from Blade Runner as "a goddamn one-man slaughterhouse". Still, as a laconic gunslinger wielding two uzis, it works just fine. Good stuff too from Richard Lynch, always reliable as a low-rent Rutger Hauer, making a formidable nemesis for Chuck Norris as the terrorist mastermind leading the invasion.

Missing In Action and Invasion USA are available on DVD, both MGM catalogue titles meaning they're serviceable looking discs, and at least are inexpensive, so if you can drag yourself away from your Yasujirô Ozu DVDs for a few hours both films are highly recommended touchstones of 80's action cinema.

1. The subject of Missing In Action's sequels is a curious one. Cannon actually had the Part 2 of the series in production alongside Part 1. Originally, "Part 2", directed by Lance Hool was to be released first (the film set chronologically before Part 1) but when both films were in post production Cannon realised that the Joseph Zito lensed film was the stronger of the two so the studio wisely chose to release the Zito film first, and what would become Part 2 was promoted as a prequel to the original and was released as Missing In Action 2: The Beginning. The final installment of the series, Braddock: Missing in Action III was released in 1988

2. As titles go Invasion USA is one of the better ones, but an obscure 1952 film was the first to use the title. The 1952 film was about a Communist invasion of America, as too was Red Dawn John Milius' 1984 film about an invasion of the United States by Soviet Union and Cuban forces.


  1. Although I haven't seen the MGM transfer, I feel that Invasion USA deserves a decent release. For some reason, the movie was always seen as a B-movie and given shoddy treatment. Whilst it isn't a massive Hollywood blockbuster, I'd like to see a good Blu-Ray release for this movie.
    The score by Jay Chattaway is a highlight for me and I was glad to replace my cassette with the expanded CD released a coupla years back.

  2. I agree... It's quite a big movie, and put today's action films to shame. There's a lot of great movies trapped in MGM Bargain Bin hell - Dennis Hopper's Colors, Sam Peckinpah's The Killer Elite... these films deserve better !

  3. Two of my absolute faves - along with the four Zito films here - throw in Red Scorpion - and it turns out I'm really a fan of this director's work! He really was a solid source of dependable thrills and chills every time his credit appeared on screen! I saw both of these action flicks in the theater - it was a great time to be in high school and college with a driver's licence!

  4. Craig, I'm eager to see Red Scorpion ! I had forgotten about the film until Synapse put out their Blu-Ray edition and the film was revived - but the reviews was so enthusiastic, I had an itch to see to see the film...