Sunday, September 27, 2015

Invasion U.S.A. (1985)

Evil Soviet bad guy Mikhail Rostov (Richard Lynch) has an evil plan to finally bring down the Land of the Free™. He’s going to bring in a bunch of international people of evil, and have them start a mass of terrorist attacks, preferably staged in such a way the divergent social groups of the country will be set at each other’s throats and people will start to learn to distrust authority (gasp!). Alternatively, these attacks are set against Christmas trees, American flags, white little girls and shopping malls. Yup, that’s the titular invasion, even though it’s not actually an invasion in a classic Cannon manoeuvre.

The only thing Rostov fears is former CIA agent Matt Hunter (Chuck Norris). Hunter, you see, once nearly killed Rostov and only turned a deadly shot into a show-off martial artist kick because his higher-ups said so. Lucky for Rostov, Hunter has quit his job and is now living somewhere in the swamps of Florida, eating frogs and petting an armadillo, and even when asked to return to go after Rostov, he grumpily declines. Alas, Rostov’s Chuckophobia convinces him a preventive attack on our hero’s (oh gawd) home is the best way to go; of course, that only kills Hunter’s native American buddy (and possibly the armadillo), and makes the man righteously angry, which is to say induces mild muscular movement in his face and turns him into a torturing, murdering sadist now very pleased to hunt murdering, torturing sadist Rostov and his men down. What a patriot!

Cannon’s Invasion U.S.A. takes a particularly honoured place in the line-up of ultra-jingoistic US action movies of the 80s because it is raving so wildly it is at times difficult to discern if Joseph Zito’s film is in fact an expression of the right-wing frothing of its time or indeed a parody through hyperbole. Of course, given Chuck Norris’s well-known politics, and the fact he is actually listed as a screenwriter, it’s probably right-wing raving that accidentally turns into parody, even though I do find it rather improbable nobody involved realized that the film’s hero is a creepy sociopath who really, really loves to kill and torture people.

Part of the rather disturbing impression Norris makes here is the fault of the way the script writes around his flaws as an actor, namely, that he can’t emote at all, and that his delivery of any piece of dialogue longer than a one-liner is usually just wrong and often utterly bizarre. What choice is there than to make him a guy who has no friends, doesn’t actually talk to people (not even an “are you alright?” for innocent bystanders), and who prowls the nightly streets of your random South Eastern US city like a serial killer looking for prey? It doesn’t help that the Norris school (and its most horrifying brother, the Seagal school) of action heroics never lets its hero show weakness at all, so where JCVD or Lundgren, or even Michael Dudikoff (the future Matt Hunter, even though the characters share nothing beyond the South and a talent for violence) from time to time get a beat down or seem actually perturbed and aggravated by the violence around them, Norris just robotically and effortlessly murders his enemies.

On the positive side, Norris is the ideal opposite to Richard Lynch’s high-strung and weaselly performance, his often hilarious joy at destroying suburbs, school busses, and whatever else “typically American” making him easy to love (hate?), his every twitch turning him into the Anti-Norris. And yeah, I was sort of rooting for him to at least take Chuck with him.

Lynch isn’t the only one showing great enthusiasm for destruction though. Zito’s direction takes all the crassness, the stupidity, and the plain weirdness of the script and turns it into the one true kind of poetry action cinema knows, motion and explosions, using every editing trick, every suspense technique, and every loud noise in the book to create a real magnum opus of the stupidly overblown, on a Cannon budget. And while the film’s politics are dubious at best, and its lead actor isn’t up to snuff, Invasion U.S.A. is such an unapologetic bit of action cinema I can’t help but love it.

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