I said in my review of the recent action film London Has Fallen that it felt like a throwback to the ’80s action movies made by Cannon Films, which had good action sequences but were definitely a product of the Reagan administration and a xenophobic view of the world. Well, this week I decided to watch one of these and the result was delightfully absurd. It’s almost too naive to be offensive in its politics.
Who better than Chuck Norris to kill a billion terrorists laying waste to suburban Miami? Friends, I give you 1985’s Invasion U.S.A.
This trailer is the perfect encapsulation of both the movie and of Cannon Films in general. What do they do? They take an ordinary, peaceful town/neighborhood/city and absolutely destroy the place. And not with baseball bats; with bazookas and every bullet ever made in a bullet factory. Plus, you had the ubiquitous ’80s action trailer announcer Don La Fontaine to give it that extra push toward awesome.
Movies like this can’t go off the rails because that implies they were ever on the rails to begin with. They don’t even have rails near them. They have never seen a rail.
Invasion U.S.A. was directed by Joseph Zito, who doesn’t have a large filmography, but it is impressively stocked with cult hits. Prior to this movie, he directed the highly regarded 1981 slasher flick The Prowler, the fourth (and best) film in the Friday the 13th series, and another Chuck Norris actioner by Cannon, Missing in Action. (That film was actually meant to be the second Missing in Action, but the first one ended up being garbage so Cannon’s executive team of Golan and Globus decided to make that one a prequel and put the more impressive sequel as the first film. It’s very confusing.) Anyway, Zito had the chops in the early ’80s.
The plot to this movie is surprisingly complex for as little story as there is. An especially evil Russian terrorist named Mikhail Rostov (Richard Lynch, who has one of the scariest faces imaginable) has brought a small group of “communist guerrillas” to Miami after intercepting a boat full of Cuban refugees that is also a drug transport. Posing as the Coast Guard, Rostov first welcomes the refugees to the USA but then guns them all down. He then sells the drugs to a local kingpin (the also scary looking Billy Drago) in exchange for heavy armaments. After killing all of those people too, Rostov plans an invasion…of Miami, Florida…with hundreds of other multi-ethnic terrorists storming the beaches under cover of night.
This is where Chuck Norris comes in. He plays Matt Hunter, a retired CIA operative living in seclusion in the Everglades. He once had the opportunity to kill Rostov but hesitated, sending him to prison. Rostov hates Hunter and wants revenge. Even though the FBI, Miami Police, and real Coast Guard all beseech Hunter to help them, he declines. But then Rostov decides to blow up Hunter’s river shack and kill his elderly best friend, so naturally he’s all in. There’s also a reporter woman (Sidebar: why is it that in every action movie, the token female is always a reporter? Always. Unless she’s the main character’s wife, in which case her occupation is “wife,” or the bad guy’s moll, women with any kind of character in these movies are always brassy reporters.) She factors into the plot at the beginning, but is eventually left along the way in favor of wanton mayhem.
Now, the most gloriously ridiculous thing about this movie is that Norris’ character is apparently a magical wizard of some sort. Not literally, but he somehow always manages to show up exactly when and where an act of terrorism is about to go down. He, of course, hadn’t been activated yet when Rostov and company destroyed a whole neighborhood (which was done in a development that was going to be torn down anyway), but pretty much every other time, he’s right there. How?! There’s never any intel gathered or radio frequencies bugged; he just miraculously knows where to go at all times.
Even when six guys are about to detonate a bomb in a church used as a refuge from the terror, Chuck is able to retrieve and disconnect the suitcase bomb, bring it over to a large brick wall, stand on the brick wall, and then toss it down to them and connect the wires so they blow up. He also manages to find a school bus with a bomb placed on the outside of it, grab it off the moving bus while driving, find the bad guys’ car on the road, place it on the car, and drive off before it explodes WITHIN 1 MINUTE. Chuck Norris in this is like a dour Bugs Bunny.
The ending of the movie is simply bonkers. The frigging National Guard comes in with tanks and hundreds of army men and they have a massive machine-gun war in the middle of downtown Miami (I think it was actually filmed in Georgia somewhere, but ehhhh, who cares?) with all of the terrorists. Well, I say “all” of the terrorists, but not actually. While all of that explosive carnage is going on, Norris is in an office building (???) that Rostov and his handful of closest allies have just shot up for some reason. Norris, with his pair of Uzis that are always dangling at his sides, walks through and has a firefight with the men. Eventually his guns run out of ammo, so he picks up a huge giant gun, and then he eventually sees Rostov and they fight before they have a showdown with bazookas. Guess who wins.
I don’t feel like I’ve sold this movie well enough. This is one of the most fun action movies from the age of excess I’ve ever seen. The poster is incredibly misleading in that it shows Norris standing near the U.S. Capital building, but it all takes place in southern Florida. The U.S.A. is technically invaded, but there’s no possible way 300 guys could take the country over via Florida, no matter how much artillery they have (and it’s a lot). There are great over-the-top action set pieces in the movie, many I’ve already discussed, but there’s also a huge battle between Chuck and 50 guys in the middle of a shopping mall (which in real life was about to be renovated so they could demolish the place). It’s stuff like that which gave Invasion U.S.A. the production value as high as any major studio affair.
While Norris’ star continued to shine for many more years, the light was fading for Cannon, and within two years, they’d be all but bankrupt. Luckily, we’ve still got these insane and gratuitously violent action movies to watch. And just this week, Invasion U.S.A. got a spiffy release from Shout! Factory with some fun extras. I was all ready to bash the movie for being super fascist, but it’s almost too dumb to be taken that seriously. I mean, bazookas, you guys.
Images: Cannon Films/MGM