“P.O.W. the Escape” successfully captures a hellish vision for the audience, and that vision spawns from the fact that a film this stupid was ever conceived. The characterization, plot and direction are such a mess that none of the usual elements needed to make a successful Vietnam picture are present.
The Cannon Group had a winning formula for capturing the imagination of action junkies in the late ‘80s. That formula littered video stores with its logo on many cassette boxes. Often, the films starred action greats such as Charles Bronson and Chuck Norris. In fact, Norris’ career is based on this type of Vietnam picture, where he would often lead a group of soldiers out from behind enemy lines. American audiences enjoyed this type of cinema during the Reagan era, and they were based upon old-fashioned heroes for a cause we can all believe in.
What makes this picture different is that Norris has been replaced by David Carradine, who is not cut out for this type of role. Most actors have their limitations, and it is hard to believe that a group of soldiers would follow Carradine’s character of Col. James Cooper. No conviction is displayed on his face at any time, and he seems to have a muddled motivation throughout the movie. The whole time you are watching the movie, you may be wondering if Carradine’s heart was really in this picture.
Carradine’s supporting cast is filled primarily with unknowns, with the exception of two actors, and that can also be a large problem with this film. The villain is played by long-time character actor Mako, who seems more motivated by greed than hatred toward American soldiers. The audience has no reason to worry about the safety of these soldiers because there is nothing all that scary about this villain. Early in the picture, he seems to want to cut a deal with Cooper for his U.S. citizenship. What this needed to succeed would be a more ruthless, sadistic villain, which would’ve been the driving force for us to root for the heroes.
His mind seems to be on some hidden gold that he has stolen from the soldiers, which he’ll use to start a new life for himself. This all leads to an unnecessary subplot where Carradine’s character steals the gold. The problem with this is that if you are trying to escape for dear life, gold should be the last thing on your mind.
The late, great Steve James has a supporting role as one of the soldiers trying to regain his freedom, and he does what he can with the insignificant role.
Adding insult to injury, “P.O. W. the Escape” is filled with some pretty horrible movie clichés: There’s a selfish soldier that Cooper helps to see the light, a nerdy soldier that can fix everything and a ton of other needless stocks character. None of the actors attempt to elevate their roles with more characterization, and all of them simply abandon their perspective moments to shine.
But the biggest insult to the audience is when the soldiers, having been to hell and back, start singing “Proud Mary.” Was that scene supposed to inspire the audience for the final reel of the picture? If so, it doesn’t work and officially removes the viewer from the picture.
Another factor that removes the audience is the sloppy pace of the editing, allowing scenes to drag on endlessly without furthering the story.
“P.O. W. the Escape” is a disappointment in a genre where people don’t even have high expectations. A little more work from behind and in front of the camera would have resulted in pure escapism, and a memorable B movie.