By: John M Jerva
I’ve been watching a lot of old school action films lately for my Action Rewind section on the site and it’s been one nostalgic hit after another. I’ve made a detour as today is the 34th anniversary of Chuck Norris’ final entry in his Missing in Action series. When it concerns Chuck Norris, all other movies can wait and it’s been a while since I’ve given Chuck some love on the site. After all, this is the one man that pretty much introduced me to action films and is a living legend.
Aptly titled Braddock: Missing in Action III which was an obvious play on Rambo: First Blood Part II which hit three years prior, this one remains my favorite of the series. This is a darker film this time around as Norris’ Braddock goes through the emotional and physical ringer on his way to blowing away hordes of enemy combatants.
Chuck’s brother Aaron directs this time as Norris returns as Col. James Braddock and “this time it’s personal” as he discovers that his long, lost Vietnamese love he thought dead was still alive and living in enemy territory. Joseph Zito, who directed Chuck in the first Missing in Action and Invasion USA was originally supposed to direct but he left after he and Norris had creative differences. Aaron was a second unit director and took over after Zito departed.
I always found it funny as the timelines never gelled between the three films as this one has him getting injured during the fall of Saigon and being airlifted out while we all know that he was captured during the war and didn’t escape until years later which was the plot of the second prequel film. It’s a nitpick of mine but it never bothered me that much and never hampered my enjoyment of the movies. Maybe this was the Multiverse-Braddock edition. It is nice to see the great Keith David who makes a cameo appearance as a soldier at the gate of the embassy. I always wished that he had a bigger role and probably would have made for a better comrade who helped Braddock on his mission.
Anyway, I digress. Braddock: Missing in Action III switches it up as now Braddock isn’t going after POW’s like before but now he’s going after his wife who is still living under the merciless rule of General Quoc played by Aki Aleong and his army. To make it even more dramatic, Braddock finds out that he has a son (Roland Harrah III) as well so the stage is set for Braddock to jock up and lock and load as he becomes a one man war determined to free his wife and son and the rest of Vietnam at the same time.
The late, great Yehuda Efroni, who was featured in a number of Cannon Films like The Delta Force and American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt, plays Father Polanski who comes to Braddock with the news that his wife is still alive and pleads for him to rescue her, Braddock’s son along with numerous Amerasian children the priest cares for who were forgotten about and thrown away like trash.
Braddock: Missing in Action 3 was made in 1988 while Cannon Films was winding down their 80’s assault on action cinema and this is one of Norris’ best as he shows a lot of surprising dramatic range to go along with the fisticuffs and firepower. Braddock goes through a series of emotional gut punches including watching his wife get shot in the head and Norris also shows that he’s human as he’s captured by Quoc and tortured before he resumes his one man army duties in the second half of the film.
Here’s a fun fact courtesy of the IMDb. Norris tried to sue Cannon Films because the company put little effort into promoting it due to financial troubles that they were experiencing at the time. Norris felt that this was his best film to date and was angered over the mishandling of the marketing for the movie.
There’s numerous similarities between this entry and the first one like Braddock hooking up with an old comrade to get him into Nam. Just like M. Emmet Walsh’s Jack Tucker in the first one, this time we have Ron Barker as Mik who is apt at getting anything that Braddock needs. I always felt that Barker was a cheap imitation of Walsh but again I’m nitpicking here.
Another example is that the US government wants to stop Braddock at all costs so as to cover up all they did wrong. This is a cliche in these types of movies and they always include a government agent who is annoying to say the least. This time we have Littlejohn played by Jack Rader and he’s a stereotypical thorn in Braddock’s side. It all doesn’t amount to much as our fearless hero runs circles around Littlejohn and his crew making them look epically bad at their jobs. This subplot does lead to one of the best lines in any Chuck Norris film when he proudly says, “I don’t step on toes Littlejohn….I step on necks.”
This installment comes packed with endless action per the norm that we all know and love as Norris gets into several fierce firefights during the running time and while there isn’t an over abundance of hand to hand, Norris still gets ample opportunity to beat the piss out of several faceless goons with a fury of kicks and devastating punches throughout. That’s one thing I always liked about Norris. Even though he wasn’t making true martial arts films anymore, he still gave the fans what they wanted.
The finale is worth the price of admission alone as Braddock launches his assault on Quoc’s compound where he vaporizes countless Vietnamese soldiers in a patriotic showing of action hero force. To make it even sweeter, Braddock uses one bad ass assault rifle which comes equipped with bladed weapons and a grenade launcher that rotates. Yeah, that’s just friggin’ cool and this weapon needed to be showcased in more action films, hands down.
During this blaze of glory 80’s action excess sequence, Braddock stands firmly out in the open and fires from the hip with steely eyed precision, mowing down double digit soldiers as countless rounds of ammo continue to miss him. Bullets, just like humans, are scared of Norris so they just fly right by inflicting no damage whatsoever. This may sound like a negative to the untrained eye but to a true action aficionado like myself, this is action filmmaking at its finest and it is glorious.
The fight isn’t over after Braddock rescues his son and the other children as he now must get to the border and escape Quoc and his endless supply of cronies. This all culminates in another thrilling, bullet riddled set piece as Braddock carves his way through border guards with the American Army watching on the other side because they are ordered to not cross the border to help. No worries though because even though Braddock gets shot up, he’s still the best and he even takes on Quoc who is now in an attack chopper armed with rockets and cannons. Doesn’t this chopper know who it’s dealing with? All in a day’s work for Chuck.
The climax is all very dramatic and I remember while seeing it for the first time that I though for a split second that they were going to kill Braddock off. How silly of me. The ending is hopeful and as he’s carter off on a gurney, Chuck even flashes a rare smile at his son as the suitably placed song In Your Eyes plays out through the credits. It’s cheesiness personified but once again, who cares and it’s why we love us some 80’s action cinema.
All in all, Braddock: Missing in Action 3 is a solid entry in the franchise and the perfect ending to the trilogy that started four years earlier. Norris is at his action hero best while at the same time showing more vulnerability and emotion to go with the damage. There’s more heart to go along with the carnage too and more at stake which makes this one stand out more. Aaron Norris directed some of his brother’s better films and this one is a shining example of that and their relationship. There’s more than your fill of practical effects, stunts, bullets, explosions and hand to hand supremacy to be had and Chuck proves once again that he was top tier when it came to 80’s action cinema. Braddock: Missing in Action 3 is a pinnacle in the one man army movies that flooded this era. It’s truly nothing short of spectacular in its unapologetic execution and a clear example of the type of action film that died a long time ago. Chuck Norris…there is no substitute. Happy 34th anniversary!!!