Missing in Action 2 / Avenging Angel

Makers of exploitation movies can be counted on not to miss a trick. They don’t just rip off successful films from the major studios. They’re also smart enough to steal from themselves.

Here are two low-budget films, both sequels to successful 1984 originals. Missing in Action 2 is actually a prequel to Missing in Action, which cleaned up when it was released in November 1984.

November 1984! My, these people work fast. It just proves that sometimes it’s easier to get things done in the world of quickie shoestring productions than in the major studios.

Missing in Action 2: The Beginning, like its predecessor, is a vehicle for martial-arts star Chuck Norris, a stone-faced, Clint Eastwood sort of fellow who doesn’t say much. He does smolder a lot, though, and he can be counted on to blow away a few dozen people (foolish enough to have ticked him off) in the last reel of his movies.

Chuck plays the leader of a group of soldiers being held in a prisoner of war camp in Vietnam at the end of the war. They’re tortured by the camp’s commandant (Soon-Teck Oh) who obsessively demands that Norris sign a war-crimes confession.

Chuck, of course, says no dice. So atrocity follows atrocity, until Chuck finally gets upset and takes his revenge.

The film is a masochist’s delight. Chuck and his men go through bloody heck before the movie’s half over—they’re blown up, burned alive, thrown down waterfalls, covered with worms. At one point Chuck is hanged upside down and a bag containing a live rat is tied around his head. Blecch.

It’s all to work the spectator into an emotional frenzy, and as such, it’s pretty well done—lots of action, fast moving, and absolutely black-and-white values. In movies such as this, there’s no doubt who the heroes and villains are.

Oh, and there’s a cameo appearance—via newsfilm—by Ronald Reagan.

Avenging Angel updates 1984’s Angel by five years. Angel, the high-school honor student/Hollywood hooker, is now a law student, her sordid past having been put behind her. But when her policeman friend (Robert F. Lyons) is killed on Hollywood Boulevard, it’s back to the streets for Angel—this time to find out whodunit.

Angel is played by Betsy Russell, who is threatening to become the new queen of exploitation, with Private School, Out of Control, and now this. She’s a different Angel from the one in the original (when she returns to Hollywood Boulevard, everyone says, “Gee, you look different”).

With the help of a senile cowboy (Rory Calhoun—these are sad days for aging B-movie veterans) and her former landlady (Susan Tyrell), Angel starts her search.

It’s pretty abysmal. The tone veers from the heroine’s occasional quivery-lipped determination to a cutesy brand of comedy. What’s missing is any kind of liveliness—even of the rock-bottom brand of Missing in Action 2. Except for the rare unintentional giggle—Angel, pursued by a killer, minces through a parking garage in miniskirt and high heels, and pauses to pull a derringer from her garter—the movie’s a snooze.

First published in the Herald, March 1985

This twofer undoubtedly represents a trip out to the Aurora Village theater, a now-vanished and unlamented multiplex ‘way up north along Highway 99. These movies would open without an advance press screening (duh) and I would drive up either after work on Friday or Saturday for a matinee (because I still worked a real job at this point). MIA 2 truly is a landmark of sadism, and another solid hit for Norris; I assume Avenging Angel did fine, as a couple of sequels followed.

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