It’s no secret that Hollywood doesn’t make many Westerns anymore. Why bother, especially when film makers can crank out bloody prisoner-of-war movies that amount to the same thing. The latest entry in the bring-'em-back-alive sweepstakes, “P.O.W.: The Escape” (citywide), is little more than a Grade C Western, with souped-up Jeeps instead of horses, heroic GIs serving as the cavalry, naughty North Vietnamese standing in for the Indians and lush jungle foliage replacing the sagebrush.
If you’ve seen such popular revenge sagas as “Rambo” or “Missing in Action,” it’s easy to have a feeling of deja vu about the whole affair. Set in the waning days of the Vietnam War, the film features the indestructible Col. James Cooper (David Carradine) as a valiant Army officer who sneaks in behind enemy lines to rescue a hardy band of POWs. It’s easy to imagine where director Gideon Amir (who also has a story credit) got the idea for the picture. After all, he served as a second-unit director on “Missing in Action.”
But give Amir and his screenwriting team credit--they do dream up a few comically far-fetched new wrinkles that’ll have scholars scurrying for the history books. Instead of having the GIs hack through the jungle alone, they’re escorted by a North Vietnamese prison camp commander who’s fleeing the country so he can join his family in Miami Beach. (He’s in such a rush he even leaves his pictures of Lenin behind.) Naturally, the convoy runs into trouble, especially when an alert border guard notes that Hanoi is in the other direction.
That’s when the real fireworks begin, with Cooper and his cohorts staging daring rescues, heaving grenades all over the landscape and single-handedly routing most of the North Vietnamese army. Despite all this silliness, most of the acting is perfectly respectable. The best of the lot is Carradine, who gives his character a craggy, moral authority and has the rugged charm of a true action-film hero. Phil Brock (who’s been in so many Cannon films lately that he should get some stock options) also turns in a strong performance.
Unfortunately, the film itself is pretty ridiculous--you’ve certainly never seen such a well-fed bunch of prisoners in your life. The movie’s only vaguely realistic moment comes when Cooper’s troops stumble onto a battalion of GIs near enemy lines. To make sure they’re really red-blooded Americans, the prisoners ask the soldiers to name the 11th President. Stumped, the GIs request another trivia question. So the prisoners ask who’s the greatest guitarist in the world. That one’s easy--the soldiers all shout, “Jimi Hendrix!” 'P.O.W.: THE ESCAPE’
A Cannon Group presentation. Producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus. Director Gideon Amir. Writers Jeremy Lipp, James Bruner, Malcolm Barbour and John Langley. Camera Yechiel Ne’Eman. Editor Roy Watts. Music David Storrs. Production Design Marcia Hinds. With David Carradine, Charles R. Floyd, Steve James, Phil Brock, Mako, Daniel Demorest and Tony Pierce.
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.
MPAA rating: R (under 17 requires an accompanying parent or adult guardian).