Cannontober #3 Invasion USA
As a child, I got a lot of my ideas about the way the world worked not just from Cannon films, but from the advertising and marketing of those very same masterpieces of cinema as well. I consequently assumed, and Missing in Action seemingly confirmed, that Vietnam’s three primary industries were American-torturing, prostitution and drug dealing.
I likewise assumed that bad guys could always be identified by the rivers of sweat continually coating their bodies. People sweat in Cannon movies in a way they do not perspire outside of them, perhaps because intense, overwhelming sweatiness is a cheap, easy shorthand for feverish intensity.
People perspire in a way they seldom do outside of deodorant ads in 1985’s Invasion USA, a film that asks how American society would respond if a group of evil, culturally diverse terrorists were to sweep into our country under cover of night to sow discord and anarchy and pave the way for a foreign takeover of the United States government.
That would be a bold and provocative premise for a movie with any kind of ambition or social consciousness. Needless to say, the Golan and Globus-produced Chuck Norris vehicle Invasion USA is not that movie. It asks a provocative and juicy question, only to answer, “Chuck Norris would kill all the terrorists and also a bunch of stuff will get blown up.”
Oh sweet lord does a bunch of stuff get blown up but good in Invasion USA. If there was an Academy Award for most stuff blown up, then Cannon would have taken that baby home the entire Reagan era. On a narrative, storytelling, characterization and stylistic level, Invasion USA is an unmistakable failure. On a “Chuck Norris killing people and things blowing up” level, on the other hand, the film is undeniably successful.
The movie opens on a group of desperate Cubans making the perilous trek to the United States with little in the way of resources. They’re overjoyed when they see a boat and someone professing to be a Coast Guard captain played by Richard Lynch. But their joy turns to horror when he and his men murder everyone on board the boat, including children, before uncovering a fortune in cocaine hidden inside the boat.
Nothing short of the slaughter of innocents is enough for the opening of a Cannon film. Mikhail Rostov, Lynch’s character, spends the whole movie helping massacre huge groups of God-fearing, flag-waving, Tonight Show-watching Americans, but he’s flummoxed in his bid to kill the one person he really wants to kill.
That man if of course Chuck Norris’ character Hunter. They chose Hunter, I suspect, because “Killsbaddies Goodguy” would have been a little too on the nose for the character. Mikhail Rostov has a swell plan to take over the government with a modest band of terrorists but he knows that just one thing can stop it: Hunter.
Mikhail Rostov is convinced that unless he and his fellow rocket-launching lunatics kill Hunter as a preemptive measure, he’s going to single-handedly foil their plan to take over the entire United States one sleepy Christmastime.
Invasion USA takes place entirely around Christmas, so if you think about it, it’s kind of a Christmas movie. You know what else is kind of a Christmas movie? A Christmas Story. And also Die Hard.
The villain’s seemingly foolproof “Let’s kill this one dude immediately so he doesn’t single-handedly stop us from taking over the United States” plan backfires when, despite the bad guys shooting Hunter’s backwoods Everglades shack over and over and over again with shoulder-mounted rocket launchers, they not only fail to kill their target, but they don’t even manage to take out Hunter’s adorable pet baby armadillo. You do not want to piss off a character played by Chuck Norris. That goes double for baby armadillos.
Our hero’s pet peeves include comically over-the-top attempts on his life, blowing up his home and making his pet armadillo homeless, so his response to this aggressive attempt on his life is an unmistakable, “Well, I guess I gotta go kill all those terrorists and single-handedly save the country now.”
Mikhail Rostov seems to see taking over a country of two hundred million people and killing a short guy with a beard as equally important, and equally dangerous and impossible missions. He should. I’d say that in a space of only a few days Mikhail accomplishes at least sixty percent of his somewhat ambitious goal to, you know, take over the country. But he only begins to realize his dream of killing an unassuming beard enthusiast about twenty percent.
Mikhail’s to-do list has only two items: take over world’s most powerful nation, and kill Hunter. He does not succeed on either front, but he makes a whole lot more progress on the more difficult of the two tasks.
Invasion USA has Mikhail and his minions approach a series of all-American tableaus and settings, including Church, a school bus, Christmas trees, a beach where young lovers frolic and watch Phyllis Diller on The Tonight Show, often under cover of night, and often while wearing the garb of authority figures like the police or members of the military.
These terrorists hate these places because they can’t stand out freedom. So they whip out out their many bazookas, rocket-launchers and other anti-tank devices and blow the holy living fuck out of these places in the name of evil. And they do it during Jesus and Ronald Reagan’s favorite time of the year.
In Invasion USA, the war on Christmas is more than just right-wing propaganda: it’s a war being fought in the streets and malls of America, generally by sneering, interchangeable eastern European henchmen with rocket launchers. And the only man containing this plague of anti-Christmas terror is Hunter.
This is how Invasion USA works: terrorists will show up at some Norman Rockwell-like apogee of wholesome all-Americanness, rocket launchers at the ready, to fuck some shit up. Then Hunter magically shows up, clad in denim, glowering and ready for action, oftentimes in a bad-ass truck, to kill all the bad guys with machine guns, save the day and single-handedly prevent a violent coup the likes of which our nation has never known.
Early in the film, Mikhail’s main sidekick asks Mikhail of Hunter, “He’s one man alone. What can he do?” Anyone who has ever seen a Chuck Norris film, or even a Chuck Norris meme, for that matter, knows that the answer to that only seemingly rhetorical question is “anything and everything.” In Invasion USA, that extends to being able to save a nation of 200 million people all on his lonesome.
When Hunter is first approached to save God’s own United States, he says no. After all his shit is blown up but good by the terrorists, he changes his mind but on one condition: he works alone. The government agrees because let’s be honest: fighting a terrorist force the likes of which the world has never known and preventing the hostile takeover of the United States government really seems like a one-man job. Forget 300: Invasion USA doesn’t need 300 brave men to win a war; nope, all it needs is Chuck Norris.
In the films I’ve seen of his, Norris seems to be trying to channel the tight-lipped, stoic intensity of Clint Eastwood, the sense that underneath the stern exterior lies untold depths. Instead, he just seems robotic and dead on the inside. Norris’ dialogue here mostly consists of informing various bad guys of their imminent deaths. You know what? He knows of what he speaks. He's all, "You're about to die" and then, boom, he kills them. He is nothing if not a man of his word. And a man of action.
That extends to the climax, which is as brutally simple as anything in Cannon’s filmography. In it, Hunter, after luring his arch-nemesis into the kind of trap even Yosemite Sam would be able to figure out and avoid, blows up the main bad guy with a fucking rocket launcher.
I should probably mention here that Richard Lynch is far and away the most compelling aspect of the film. He’s got the sweaty, mad-eyed intensity of Klaus Kinski and a memorable habit here of shooting dudes in the dick just for the sake of being gross. In addition to the many explosions, Invasion USA features a whole lot of dudes getting their dick shot off for no discernible reason. It’s reassuring to know that, when faced with a choice between having the villain shoot dudes’ dicks for no reason or not having them get shot in the crotch, Cannon always opted for the choice that involved grievous groin injuries.
If there was a special Academy Award given each year to the film that blew the most shit up, Cannon would have a lock on it for a solid decade, and Invasion USA would win an Oscar for Special Achievement in blowing shit up on an epic, historic level. Invasion USA is a terrible motion picture in seemingly every conceivable way, but on a pure blowing-shit-up level, its fierce commitment to blowing shit up is nothing short of heroic.
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