Director – Joseph Zito, Screenplay – James Bruner & Chuck Norris, Story – James Bruner & Aaron Norris, Producers – Yoram Globus & Menahem Golan, Cinematography – Joao Fernandes, Music – Jay Chattaway, Special Effects Supervisor – Gary F. Bentley, Makeup Effects – Tom Savini, Production Design – Ladislav Wilheim. Production Company – Golan-Globus
Chuck Norris (Matt Hunter), Richard Lynch (Mikhail Rostov), Melissa Prophet (McGuire), Alexander Zale (Nikko), Eddie Jones (Cassidy), Alex Colon (Tomas), Jon de Vries (Johnston), Billy Drago (Mickey), Dehl Berti (John Eagle)
Matt Hunter is a retired government agent living in seclusion in the Florida Everglades. Matt’s old enemy, the Russian Mikhail Rostov and his soldiers, come and attempt to kill Matt, blowing his house up with rocket launchers. Rostov commands an army that comes ashore in Florida and then begins a campaign of slaughter and mass destruction across the country. The soldiers are often disguised as police and army, which causes chaos and anarchy amongst the civilian population. Surviving the attack, Matt begins a one-manned operation to stop the invasion and confront his old enemy.
Chuck Norris was one of the quintessential action heroes of the 1980s. Born in 1940 of Irish-Cherokee parentage, Norris served in the US Air Force in the 1950s and 60s. He was stationed in South Korea where he developed an interest in martial arts. Back in the US in the 1970s, Norris won several black belt titles and fell into circles with Bruce Lee – there exist many different stories as to the extent of the friendship between Norris and Lee, from close to distant, to questionably true stories that Lee made Norris write a letter of apology after he claimed to be a better fighter. Whatever the case, Norris made his acting debut on screen in Lee’s Way of the Dragon/Return of the Dragon (1973) and his lead acting debut in the Hong Kong-made Slaughter in San Francisco (1973). Norris’s name began to grow a few years later with US-made films like A Force of One (1979), The Octagon (1980), An Eye for an Eye (1981), Silent Rage (1982) and Lone Wolf McQuade (1983).
Chuck Norris’s career was at its height during the mid-1980s when he teamed up with Israeli-born producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus who ran their own US-based production company Golan-Globus and the Cannon distribution chain. Under Golan-Globus, Norris made eight films – Missing in Action (1984) and sequel, Invasion U.S.A., The Delta Force (1986) and sequel, Firewalker (1986) and Hero and the Terror (1988). Into the 1990s after the collapse of Golan-Globus, Norris’s career began to wane considerably. A large part of this was due to Norris putting his career into the hands of his younger brother Aaron who directed him through a series of seven excruciating films beginning with Braddock: Missing in Action III (1988) and passing through the likes of the children’s film Sidekicks (1992), the woeful action/horror HellBound (1993), the laughable environmentalist children’s film Forest Warrior (1995) and the canine-cop buddy comedy Top Dog (1995), as well as Norris having other disastrous ideas like appearing as an angel in the Christian movie Bells of Innocence (2003). Norris’s second wind however came with the tv series Walker, Texas Ranger (1993-2001), which lasted a surprising nine seasons, however he appears to have gone into retirement following that.
I must admit to being no fan of Chuck Norris’s monosyllabic tough guy image. Norris has almost zero in the way of acting ability and progresses through all of his films with an attitude of irritating self-righteousness. Invasion U.S.A. – no relation to the earlier nuclear war film Invasion USA (1952), which coincidentally was also a film about the Soviet invasion of the USA – was one of Norris’s films under Golan-Globus. Having proved himself a bankable action star with Missing in Action, Golan-Globus allowed Chuck Norris the opportunity to write his own script here. The results are an absolute laugh riot.
A glance through Chuck Norris’s biography shows that he is an ardent supporter of right wing American politics – he is a proud Republican, has campaigned for both George Bush Sr and Jr and touts his membership of the NRA. Surely enough, all of this comes through in Invasion U.S.A.. Norris was almost certainly inspired by John Milius’s Red Dawn (1984), which came out just over a year prior to Invasion U.S.A.. Red Dawn bought into the conservative survivalist fantasy of the Reagan era – that America had made itself weak militarily and was opening itself up for invasion from the Soviet Union and that nuclear war was imminent. Red Dawn had this literally come true with a group of teenagers forced to survive in the wild following a Soviet invasion of the US. Viewed today, Red Dawn‘s survivalist politics are hilariously absurd in their paranoia.
Invasion U.S.A. is an action movie take on Red Dawn‘s fantasy of Communist invasion. There is a certain problem evident in turning the basics of Red Dawn into an action movie. One of these is that the way it is translated the film becomes less a battle of people standing up against an ideology than it is simply standard hero Chuck Norris standing up against standard bad guy Richard Lynch. What also surprises one about Invasion U.S.A. – especially for a film that trades in fantasies of American invasion – is how slow it is to get started. It is forty minutes before the film gets Chuck out of Everglades and on the trail of villain Richard Lynch, forty minutes that are taken up by interminable scenes with Chuck ambling around his swampland house with his pet armadillo and Lynch for some reason engaged in drug deals and shooting up a boatload of Cuban immigrants. There are no action scenes to speak of within this first hour, just much running around.
The oddest thing about Invasion U.S.A. as a Communist invasion fantasy in the vein of Red Dawn is that the script never ever concerns itself with (or for that matter even mentions) Communism. While the video cover and promotion pitches Invasion U.S.A. as Chuck Norris vs the Communists, there is nothing (aside from Richard Lynch’s villain being Russian) that suggests the film is about a Communist invasion rather than a private militia causing mayhem. Furthermore, despite the broad-reaching nature of its title, Invasion U.S.A., the action never moves out beyond the streets to Miami (bar a couple of news soundbites) to give us the impression that the invasion is taking place on a national level.
In Invasion U.S.A.‘s favour, it does have some good action scenes. Golan-Globus have given Invasion U.S.A. a reasonable budget, which is occasionally on view on screen – a massed beachhead by the invading army, line-ups of tanks in the street, a considerable amount of mass destruction. There is an entertainingly absurd scene where the Russian army shoots up a mall and Chuck Norris rides in in a pickup truck to save the day, which is followed by a car chase where Norris gives pursuit as the Russian soldiers for some reason decide to abduct and then carry a woman off with her hanging on the outside of a vehicle. Chuck Norris had his tough guy persona honed to perfection at this point. He plays with a steely tight-lipped grimness that almost passes for acting. He has a total ruthlessness in his actions – shooting a man in cold blood for not talking, tossing a bomb that terrorists have planted back to them and then detonating it, placing a bomb they have planted on the side of a school bus on the hood of their car – that might take one aback were Invasion U.S.A. not such an absurd comic-book of a film.
Certain matters of basic plausibility do keep nagging in the back of the mind – where in the midst of all this anarchy are the police or the National Guard? How is it that Chuck happens to be the only one who ever happens by the attacks? The script also seems minimally sketched out – there is no explanation of the reason behind the feud between Chuck and Richard Lynch. For that matter, we are not even told what agency it was that Chuck used to work for. Moreover, director Joseph Zito does an appalling job of sentimentalising the scenario. Early on, we are given a panorama of shots around an average Floridian neighbourhood with vignettes of a kid putting a star on the top of a Christmas tree, lovers kissing in a parked car and family life in suburban homes, before the entire scene is shot-up by the Russian gunmen. While we are supposedly meant to be shocked at this assault on everyday America, the attack on the mall is such a gleeful orgy of destruction that it contrarily ends up holding a perverse pleasure.
What we have when it comes down to it is nothing more than an exercise in egotism upon Chuck Norris’s part. Chuck has suborned a rant about his own political viewpoints onto an absurd fantasy built around the ludicrous notion of one man singlehandedly defeating an entire army. That the only person who can save the US from the evil Commies is not the army, or the country’s combined military might, but Chuck Norris in his pickup truck, with bared chest and an uzi in either hand holds something hysterically absurd to it. Indeed, Chuck almost comes out looking like a superhero – his jeans, perpetually open shirt and uzi bandoliers could almost be a superhero’s uniform, and like most superheroes he has the uncanny ability to turn up wherever there is trouble.
Invasion U.S.A. was directed by Joseph Zito who had made a couple of slasher movies previously with The Prowler/Rosemary’s Killer (1981) and Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984) and then graduated to action movies with Norris’s Missing in Action and subsequent efforts like Red Scorpion (1989), the Norris-less Delta Force One: The Lost Patrol (1999) and Power Play (2002).
(Review copy provided courtesy of Ryan Kenner from Movies in the Attic).