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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Invasion USA (1985) review


Chuck Norris (Matt Hunter), Richard Lynch (Mikhail Rostov), Melissa Prophet (McGuire), Alexander Zale (Niko)

Directed by Joseph Zito

The Short Version: Cannon went wild with this extremely over the top, and violent actioner about multi-national terrorists launching an invasion on US soil. Only one thing stands in their way -- Chuck Norris, a literal one man army looking like a pissed off Yeti, and making the terrorists appear JV by comparison. It's an incredible amount of fun if you can accept the bone-headed nature of it all; particularly in the omnipotent fashion our hero, Matt Hunter, Superman with twin Uzis, is presented. Basically an exploitation movie under the guise of a polished, medium budgeted Hollywood flick, this ultra violent Chuck Norris chest-thumper is a prime example of Cannon fodder. 

Soviet, Cuban, and Arabic terrorists launch a stealthy assault on the United States of America. The plan is to use anarchy, riots, and hysteria to destabilize the fabric of the nation on their path to destroy America in a steady, systematic fashion. Only one man, Matt Hunter, stands in the way of the terrorist militants, and their plot to take over the country.

Joseph Zito knows how to deliver brutality on the big screen. His penchant for blood and guts was splattered all over slashers like THE PROWLER (1981) and FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER (1984). Onscreen sadism served him well with action spectacles MISSING IN ACTION (1984) and this mindless tour de corpses, INVASION USA -- a film whose plot is self-described in the title. One of the most brazenly over the top action films ever made, it wears its gold medal of implausibility with such pride, you can't help but fall in love with it. 

Thankfully, the picture has Chuck Norris -- whose face barely moves -- to keep things squarely in the realm of a comic book. He's basically a hairier version of Superman... or God from the Old Testament. Wherever the bad guys are, he's there to fill them full of lead; or spread their smithereens from sea to shining sea. Norris is still playing the strong, silent type, but in this movie, Chuck is supernatural. It's like he's an omnipotent force with ninja skills. Norris is Jason Voorhees with guns instead of a machete, and Richard Lynch is the "final girl". The difference being Jason is the hero and the final girl is the villain. There's even a "Look out, he's right behind you!" moment. You'll know it when you see it, and it's pretty damn glorious.

Norris's non-acting style definitely suits him. He'd of made a great Italian western actor. Surprisingly, his expressionless, steely countenance works in the films favor. Norris walks around looking like a pissed off Yeti virtually the entire time; although he does smile ONCE. He's sawing wood with a chainsaw when his pet armadillo turns over its food bowl prompting Chuck to break tradition and enter full grin mode for a few seconds. The script (by James Bruner and Chuck Norris), taken from a Readers Digest story, gives his character some fantastic lines, too. Chuck says sentences like, "You're beginning to irritate me", and "If you come back in here, I'm gonna hit you with so many rights, you're gonna beg for a left" with a level of conviction unparalleled in Tough Guy cinema.

There's one intentionally humorous (even Chuck sort of smiles about it) bit of metaphorical pandering where Chuck Norris is watching EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS (1956) on television, a film depicting a different sort of invasion; so Chuck has great taste in movies. This scene parallels the Cold War of the 50s when films like EARTH VS. thrived, and the Nuclear Arms Race of the 1980s Cold War.

INVASION USA (1985) is possibly the only action film where the protagonist has the main villain scared shit-less for two hours. Rostov is so nervous, so terrified of Matt Hunter, he even has nightmares about him! One of the best running gags is hearing Norris say -- whether speaking to a TV camera, to one of the terrorists, or in Rostov's dreams like a a rugged Freddie Krueger -- "Time to die." Of course this simultaneously spins our Russian (sometimes it sounds like he's spouting German) bad guy into fits of rage and sends chills up his spine. Within the span of three years, Norris has graduated from doubting himself via conversations with his subconscious in THE OCTAGON (1982) to mind-fucking terrorists with three simple words that aren't 'I', 'Love', or 'You'.

Played with only the finest psychotic fervor, Richard Lynch is one extremely violent son of a bitch. His entrance into the film is about as sadistic as you can get -- shoving a straw up a coke snorting woman's nose just moments before tossing her through a window, and emptying a clip into Billy Drago's nether regions. In contrast to Chuck's frequently uttered reference for Rostov's day of judgment, the Russian terrorists running gag is shooting men he dislikes a number of times square in the groin area. At one point, he repeatedly spits on a man as he furiously pumps hot lead into his manhood. It really must be seen to be believed. Lynch's performance is so deranged, his melon often appears dangerously close to detonation. Speaking of which, Lynch essayed a villain that could literally make peoples heads explode in 1994s SCANNER COP.

Zito's ugly, mean-spirited violence is one of the attributes of INVASION USA; such as when the terrorists leisurely stroll into a suburb and bazooka the shit out of a block of houses hanging Christmas ornaments. At other points in the movie, they attempt to blow up a mall and a church. Things get so over the top, the violence itself is often subdued by its absurdity. The big finale where the terrorists are lured into a trap is a gem; although a much more elaborate battle royal would have been much more welcome. Other than a sprawling helicopter view that captures a war zone in the making, the battle is kind of stagnant with little variation. The big showdown is little more than the camera cutting to both sides firing off thousands of rounds of ammunition at each other. The stalking sequence with Norris and Rostov comes off much better.

At the time, INVASION USA was scoffed at for its depiction of foreign forces easily getting into the country; and once here using fear and confusion to turn the public against civic authorities, and even themselves while a bigger plan of conquest is put in motion. Unlike RED DAWN, this insurgency is limited to America. It was far-fetched back then (Reagan was president, after all), but not so much today what with the border wide open, inviting guests of all shapes and nationalities. With a seemingly disinterested attitude towards border patrol, a covert infiltration isn't beyond the realm of possibility. One need only look back to September 11th, 2001, and the few, smaller scale attacks in the last few years. America plunging into anarchy isn't so preposterous, either; which is what the terrorists attempt to do in methodical fashion till Rostov's nightmares of Chuck Norris force him to act irrationally. So while Cannon's nutty actioner is little more than laughably violent escapism, it does have an element or two that, at least in today's climate, might have been on to something.

INVASION USA was a modest success with $17,536,256 on an estimated 12 million budget. It was one of Cannon's biggest hits of that year, and reportedly became an even bigger hit on its videocassette release. Norris's other Cannon film from earlier in the year, MISSING IN ACTION 2: THE BEGINNING, made a little more than half of INVASION's haul with approximately 11 million. RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD 2 and ROCKY 4 were the winners that year with both surpassing the 100 million mark.

Chuck was originally tapped to headline a sequel to this movie, but scheduling conflicts kept him from reprising the role. Cannon had announced Norris returning as the character in a film to be titled 'Night Hunter'. The picture did get made, but as AVENGING FORCE (1986), and starring Michael Dudikoff as Matt Hunter. The plot wasn't as ambitious, settling for a smaller scale, 'The Most Dangerous Game' type scenario.

The personification of the big dumb action movie, INVASION USA could be viewed as a parody on genre conventions. Schwarzenegger's COMMANDO (1985), released earlier in the year, was of the same exaggerated pedigree. Sharing similarities with the previous years RED DAWN, Zito's movie is a cartoon by comparison. Critics hated it, yet it wasn't designed to cater to critics; this is an audience movie. An audience that loves popcorn. One of the most outrageously macho movies of all time, this INVASION is high in testosterone content, and low on filler.

This review is representative of the MGM DVD.


xredmenacex said...

Good review. This is a fun, violent movie and one of my favorites. If you're a fan of Chuck Norris, either sincerely or ironically, you gotta see this one.

Francisco Gonzalez said...

Hilarious movie, I love it how Chuck Norris seems to have a radar for wherever bad guys are...bad guys are doing something somewhere and out of the blue Chuck Norris pops up and starts giving them hell.

Another one that is similar to this one in themes and tone is Stone Cold, highly recommend it, it's another prime example of testosterone cinema....another fun one is Action Jackson! Super Fun, highly recommend it. It's none stop action from start to finish!

venoms5 said...

@ xredmenacex: Thanks for your remarks. It's a very entertaining movie.

@ Fran: It's quite a wacky movie. I remember in fifth or sixth grade, everybody was talking about this movie. Much like everybody talked about RED DAWN when it came out the year before.

I've seen both those, but not in years.

Ed said...

Fantastic review, I did a piece on the film for The Agony Booth six years ago. Definitely one of my favorite Cannon films.

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