Danny Glover’s finely etched performance is the main thing recommending “Missing in America,” an after school-special type feature that won’t wake up to find itself in Stateside malls. Heartfelt themes and on-the-nose dialogue don’t quite make tale of damaged Vietnam vets quite as relevant as it should be, although the tougher aspects are blunted enough to make pic safe for family viewing on the cable end of the tube dial.
As Jake Neely, a reclusive ex-officer, Glover is surprisingly well matched by newcomer Zoe Weizenbaum (next to be seen in “Memoirs of a Geisha”), as a half-Vietnamese girl named Lenny who shows up at his cabin tucked away in the woods of Washington state, as played by rural B.C.
Her dad (David Straithairn, seen briefly), once under Jake’s command, is belatedly suffering from exposure to Agent Orange and wants to leave little Lenny there while he checks into a VA hospital. Much grumpy old-timer business ensues, and sure enough Lenny slowly softens Jake up, especially when she takes an interest in helping out the other shell-shocked vets hiding in the forest.
Jake also attracts some ambiguous interest from local store-owner Kate (Linda Hamilton, doing working-class shtick), but mostly tale hangs on the odd couple’s growing connection with the mysterious vets. The most ominous is Red (Ron Perlman), a mute, badly scarred survivalist whose land is booby-trap-laden.
Pic’s final quarter leaves realism behind in favor of a fable-like tale that’s richer in grand-standing nobility than in narrative logic or emotional complexity.
The script, expanded by Nancy L. Labine and helmer Gabrielle Savage Dockterman from an original work by ex-Green Beret Ken Miller, is full of naive platitudes and obvious devices. (It’s also remarkably profanity-free.) But the leads are given plenty of time to develop their unique chemistry and the largely outdoor settings, lensed by Ken Kelsch, take on a brooding character of their own.
Downer ending feels like a cheat, although coda shot at Vietnam War memorial in Washington, D.C., gives things some added gravitas.