Before John J. Rambo and Colonel James Braddock picked up their M-60s and helicoptered over to Vietnam to bring our boys back home, Uncommon Valor was the first POW movie. The difference between it and First Blood Part II and Missing In Action, though, is that instead of one kinda mumbly muscleman taking out throngs of Cong all by his lonesome, we’ve got a whole team of hardasses ready to head back into the shit to rescue their brothers in arms.
UV stars Gene Hackman as Gene Hackman, as per usual. This time, Gene Hackman happens to be a Marine colonel whose son went MIA in ’73, but it takes him ten years to find the prison camp where he’s being held. This is already a different setup than usual, because most of the time action movies take place over the course of a couple of days. Once Arnold decides an ass needs kicking, he just goes out and kicks it, but this movie shows all the effort that goes into locating the ass and the training that goes into being able to kick it properly.
So what Gene does is he locates all of the members of his son’s old unit (I said unit). It’s a hell of a bunch, too. We got Tim Thomerson as a chopper pilot who didn’t take off his sunglasses for six years after the war ended. In protest, I guess. We don’t really know because these aren’t the type of people who like to talk about their feelings. These are the type of individuals we like to refer to as “men.”
Then there’s Randall “Tex” Cobb of Raising Arizona fame, playing a good guy for the first and last time in his life. He’s a crazy biker convict who wears a grenade around his neck just in case he ever feels like saying “Fuck it” and blowing himself up. My favorite is Fred Ward, the tunnel rat with PTSD who’s good at sneaking around the bush with his face painted green and slitting motherfuckers’ throats. Actually, come to think of it, that kind of character will always be my favorite. I was always more of a Snake Eyes kid than a Duke kid. Weren’t you?
Anyway, there are some other dudes in the unit, but those are my favorites. So Hackman tough-loves these dudes into helping him bust his son out, but they’ve all been civilians for the better part of a decade now, so he’s gotta retrain them. To do that, he recruits a Marine drill sergeant played by a pre-Red Dawn Patrick Swayze. He’s kind of an uptight prick, but you kind of like him anyway because he’s a good shot and he don’t take shit. He gets into a fight with Tex and busts out some kung-fu on him, but then Tex busts out some kung-fu of his own, and just like that, awesomeness ensues. I never knew until right that moment just how badly I wanted to see Randall “Tex” Cobb roundhouse kick Patrick Swayze in the face. Nothing against the Swayz, of whom I’m a big fan, but I just really needed to see that happen for some reason. Thank you, Uncommon Valor, for fulfilling desires I didn’t even know I had.
Another hidden desire of mine was to hear Robert Stack say “Fuck you” in his awesome Ultra Magnus voice. Stack is playing this millionaire who’s financing the operation because his son’s a POW, too. The main thing his money buys, besides weapons, is a full-scale mock-up of the prison camp so the boys can practice the rescue mission. There’s one awesome part where one of the guys chainsaws a wooden target that’s supposed to be a guard, but unfortunately, the chainsaw does not figure into the actual mission because the CIA comes along and bollockses up the whole thing, so they have to improvise. Everything works out okay, though. The whole ending is pretty sweet, with all kinds of shit blowing up and motherfuckers dying in a blaze of glory, but what makes it all work is the set-up. You actually like all these dudes, and you believe that they all like each other, so when one of them sacrifices himself for the greater good, you feel it. You don’t get that in a lot of these team movies, where you can really only tell the characters apart if they happen to use a novelty weapon like a crossbow or something.
Anyway, Uncommon Valor isn’t as ridiculously over-the-top and jingoistic as the POW movies that came later in the Reagan era, when the thinking seemed to be that now that all the hippies had cut their hair and bought Saabs we could go back to Nam and win this fucking thing for the Gipper and whatnot. UV is still pretty fucking patriotic (Hackman gives a big speech before the final battle that’ll make you wanna jerk off with the American flag) but it’s a little more down-to-earth and realistic. I recommend it if you like movies where bamboo shacks blow up like they were made out of C-4 and men with bullet wounds in their shoulders scream out each others’ names. Which I'm pretty sure you do, since you’re not a total pussy.