(This entry is for the Chuck Norris Ate My Blog contest at the Chuck Norris Ate My Baby blog. Please visit and support the love for genre cinema.)
I'll preface this by saying that I don't think of myself as much of a Chuck Norris fan. In fact, despite seeing any number of his films in the 1980s, as an adult I tend to think of him from his execrable television series Walker: Texas Ranger along with his support of nutball Mike Huckabee for president. I have to think very hard to remember the Chuck Norris I really loved - the martial arts expert that sparred (beardless!) against Bruce Lee in Way Of The Dragon. But, despite the fact that I don't enjoy his public persona, and I even became rather weary of the internet meme that seemed omnipresent a few years back, I do have an appreciation for 80s action cinema. While necessarily conservatively bent - this was Reagan's America after all - the films had an energy and vitality (along with massive amounts of homoeroticism) that I just find missing in a lot of modern action epics. Chuck Norris became, like Mr. T, a pure symbol of unabashed manliness that seemed totally at home with the era - and seems almost quaint in the present day.
Perhaps the peak of Norris' cinematic machismo came in 1985's Invasion U.S.A. which put Norris' Matt Hunter against a hoarde of Russians - led by the vaguely Rutger Hauerish Mikhail Rostov (played with unhinged glee by Richard Lynch) - intent on spreading terror throughout the United States. Feeding off the cold war paranoia of the era, the film posits a not-too-distant-future scenario where ice-cold Russian mercenaries (with a raging hard-on of hate for American freedom) invade American shores forcing their commie values on hard working joes. But Rostov is equally interested in getting a little revenge on Hunter for spoiling his attempted attack on an American embassy years earlier, and for kicking him in the face repeatedly. Hunter is interested only in rassling alligators and zooming through the Florida swamps in an airboat, his mullet flapping fearlessly in the breeze. But it's funny how things change.
And change they do when Rostov decides to remove the thorn in his side by blowing Hunter up real good. Instead, his attack (which kills Hunter's friend John Eagle) serves only to bring the ex-secret agent out of retirement. Oops! While the terrorists had been doing a great job getting the upper hand - completely demolishing a neighbourhood with a series of bazooka blasts, and murdering fairly indescriminatly - now their attempts to blow up churches and shopping malls begin to hit a wall. A wall named Matt Hunter.
This would be a good place to mention Hunter's catchphrase, which began back at the American embassy when - with a gun barrel pressed against Rostov's head - he had told him that it was "time to die". Having obviously not followed through with that statement at the time, Hunter brings up this phrase repeatedly to taunt the Russian, even managing to get the statement broadcast on television in what must have been a particularly confusing news segment. In fact, in the last half hour it becomes less a question of if Hunter is going to kill Rostov, and more of a question of whether he's going to be able to make a callback to his catchphrase before he does so. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.
These Russians are a particularly sneaky bunch, posing as police officers and national guardsmen, but Hunter can sniff out a red from a mile away and blows them away with his trademark twin Uzis. Eventually Hunter is arrested for various murders and destruction of property, and Rostov sees this as his final chance to kill his nemesis once and for all. Gathering all of his available men, they make an assault on the makeshift army base where he's being held but they soon discover that the whole thing was a cunning trap. The shit then convincingly hits the fan until it's "time" for Rostov to "die".
While Chuck Norris regularly played a one-man-army in his movies, perhaps no other film in his oeuvre best captures his ability to play an unstoppable bad-ass more than Invasion U.S.A. Until the film's finale (where ol' Hunter suffers a boo-boo over his eye), he is literally untouchable in this film - easily getting the upper hand on terrorists, the police, and nosy reporters who hide their lust for him under low-key hostility. Norris isn't asked to do much more than fire guns, kick bad guys in the face and occasionally throw in a witty (or, close enough) remark ("If you come back in here, i'm going to hit you with so many rights you're going to beg for a left."), but does all three quite convincingly. As an action hero, Norris never takes much joy in crushing his enemies and hearing the lamentations of their women, but his stone-face seems to be part of his appeal. Saving the U.S.A. is simply part of his job description.
Thankfully, what Chuck is missing in personality is made up for by Richard Lynch's venomous portayal of the psychotic Rostov. In a recent interview with Shock Cinema Lynch comes off as an intelligent and good-natured man, but he's supremely good at playing steely lunatics and he's in rare form here. In one memorable scene (also featuring genre favorite Billy Drago in a brief role), Rostov feigns a drug deal before killing some bodyguards, blowing Drago's nuts off and tossing a crack-whore through a window. While perhaps a bit deranged to be a believable mastermind, in a nice touch Rostov is kept in check by Nikko - his second in command. It's only after Nikko's death (at the hands of Hunter, natch) that Rostov sends all of his men into a rather obvious trap. Lynch obviously takes a lot of joy in being evil, and his eventual comeuppance feels well earned.
Director Joseph Zito cut his teeth on horror films like The Prowler and Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter (a.k.a. the one with Crispin Glover), and it's rather amusing how he treats his baddies - Rostov in particular - like slasher villains. The terrorists stalk around in the dark silently - even killing two unlucky promiscuous teenagers on the beach. Zito obviously takes relish in the larger budget, and decides to immolate every building, vehicle and (occasional) terrorist that might make for an interesting visual. The action choreography isn't particularly interesting, but the sheer scale - particularly the total warfare in the streets at the end - are of a scope that is still impressive to witness.
Invasion U.S.A. goes against a lot of what I enjoy in both my action and exploitation films. It's mindless - except for some general cold war paranoia and xenophobia - and exists solely for the joy of watching Chuck Norris mow down bad-guys in increasingly violent (and unlikely) ways. But it's the capable direction of Zito, along with a great villainous performance from Richard Lynch, that keeps things moving swiftly and I couldn't help but feel a tinge of nostalgia for Norris' final victory. Even better, the film recognizes that - at that point - there's nothing more that needs to be said and simply ends. I think i'll do the same.