Thursday, December 24, 2015

Cannon Fodder: Invasion U.S.A. (1985)

(R, Cannon Films, 107 mins., theatrical release date: September 27, 1985)

Jesus may have died for our sins, but that's only because nobody yet has considered Chuck Norris for the role.

It's Cannon Fodder, the Christmas edition! And what better way to get holly, jolly horrible than with everyone's favorite yuletide-themed Golan-Globus to Cobra? I think that one was loosely related to December 25, what with that Toys R Us commercial in the background as Cobretti polished his guns.

Look, they can't all be Die Hard or Lethal Weapon, and that's especially true of Invasion U.S.A.

The world clearly needed a hero in 1985, as Sylvester Stallone proved when both John Rambo and Rocky Balboa, once-relatable men, were put on a pedestal and became Saviors of the American Way. But these lone wolves weren't alone. The final quarter of that year blitzed the screens with one-man armies competing for the SAW throne. Arnold Schwarzenegger made a splash or sixty as John Matrix, Commando, in the process introducing his onscreen persona of the wisecracking war machine. Even if you did have a sense of humor, there was no guarantee he would kill you last. Arnie would have the last laugh as you plummeted to your death: "I let him go," he'd say in passing. Truly the jester of this new league of Knights of the Round Table.

Menahem & Yoram carved themselves multiple slices of beefcake in 1985. There was Michael Dudikoff, the American Ninja, to supplant Timothy Van Patten as the pretty boy practitioner of ninjitsu. Richard Chamberlain was our poor population's equivalent of Harrison Ford, swish-buckling his way through the legendary character of Allan Quatermain. And hanging on, as expected, were Cannon's biggest if not brightest stars: Charles Bronson and Chuck Norris, with Death Wish 3 and Missing in Action 2: The Beginning.

But Rocky IV, Commando and Death Wish 3, distributed in conveyor-belt succession during those later months of 1985, all had to follow one of the toughest acts in the history of show business.

"Fuckin' Chuck Norris."

Sorry, Mr. Freeze, but the Ice Age didn't kill the dinosaurs. Chuck Norris did. The Earth only rotates whenever Chuck Norris goes for a jog. Don't be lulled by the beard, because that's where all of the world's supply of nuclear warheads are hidden. And his mustache is more lethal than a shuriken star. They can't even name a street in his honor, because nobody crosses Chuck Norris and lives.

I remember the South Park movie's musical tribute to Brian Boitano as the precursor to the Chuck Norris Facts meme we know today. You know, fan fiction isn't my hobby, but I would love to see a showdown between Chuck Norris and "Bazooka Duke" Phillips from The Critic. Between Chuck's roundhouse kick and Duke's Tomahawk chop, ISIS will be destroyed faster than Rome.

But Chuck Norris didn't become a demigod by accident. He needed the 1980s to gather all the munitions necessary for pop culture supremacy, and in Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, Chuck found his arms dealers. One of the problems with Mark Hartley's Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films (and there are problems, Tomatometer be damned) is that everyone's too laughably sincere that Invasion U.S.A. was a pivotal depiction of terrorism on screen. They don't crack a single Chuck Norris Fact, instead trying to legitimize what was simply Chuck Norris' Red Dawn. Such meat and potatoes doesn't need the lumpy gravy.

Invasion U.S.A. exists, regardless, in all its ultra-violent, ultra-patriotic glory as a Doomsday escapist fantasy in which Chuck out-Swayzes Patrick Swayze. It's hard to believe that in the same year, Chuck once tempted credibility with Code of Silence, which grounded Norris in a plausible Chicago environment ravaged by corruption and gang warfare. It delivered a classic fight scene atop a speeding train, boasted several complicated supporting characters and was held together by assured direction from Andrew (Under Siege) Davis.

Code of Silence, alas, has nothing to do with Cannon Films, coming across as a mercenary project in hindsight. Invasion U.S.A. is a demolitionist's funfair, in which Chuck Norris seems to have been operated via crank like a toy soldier, although this particular Nutcracker Suite is conducted with duel UZIs in the place of drumsticks.

What sets Chuck's Matt Hunter (not to be confused with Dudikoff's Matt Hunter from Cannon's later Avenging Force), a retired government operative enjoying the good life in the Florida Everglades, on his Million-in-One-Man March is the return of an archenemy from his past: Mikhail Rostov (Richard Lynch). This is a man Matt was once ordered not to kill by the bureaucrats, but who has now commanded a militia and butchered a boat full of Cubans to acquire a stashed cache of drugs he has now traded in for weapons and transportation. The way Rostov sees it, Americans have become so complacent and decadent that their freedom deserves to be blown up in their face, or better for them to be blown with it.

So in a scene which blatantly reminds you that its director used to work in the slasher genre before Missing in Action changed his fortunes, Rostov's invaders storm the beach at Miami to instigate his plans of an imploding democracy (they shout out random destinations yet never manage to cross the Georgia line). They ship out in rented trucks, black cars and various disguises, all armed to the teeth, and proceed to create bedlam by blasting away at every atypical U.S. environment they can find, from split-level suburban neighborhoods to Latino-populated block parties to a mall filled with Christmas shoppers. Because several of Rostov's men appear as cops and troops, these crimes incite riots and turn the citizens against the authorities.

Luckily, Hunter survives an attempt on his life by Rostov prior to the carnage and is ready to blast these invaders to Mars.

Invasion U.S.A. makes literal many of the most beloved Chuck Norris jokes we've cracked over the years, even making one of them a plot point. Rostov IS the boogeyman who checks his closet for Chuck Norris. This Commie cretin is reduced to Tony Montana levels of bottomed-out paranoia by Hunter's repeated foiling of his terrorist schemes. One of the more hilarious instances of the "Only a Dream" trope involves Rostov plotting to demolish an ambassador's meeting only for Hunter to execute him, muttering with graven menace "It's time to die."

This thread and many others, not to mention the heroically over-baked action sequences, serve to demonstrate that Invasion U.S.A. is a prime example of the decade's rampant ego-stroking. James Cameron notoriously distanced himself from the politics of Rambo: First Blood Part II, and Stallone's subsequent vehicles Rocky IV and Cobra were also, as much as Invasion U.S.A., reactionary to the point of high camp. With Chuck Norris as a credited screenwriter, not to mention brother Aaron sharing story credit, Invasion U.S.A. is another film where you laugh just to keep from cringing at the right-handed masturbation which dominates the half-cocked proceedings.

So what you get with Invasion U.S.A. is particular sour comic book cruelty where innocent tots placing angels atop a pine tree, young lovers re-enacting From Here to Eternity and hordes of other archetypes are sacrificed with fetish so that we are ready for Chuck to save the day. The viewer breathes a sigh of relief when a church and school bus are spared by Chuck's intervention, which aspires to Bugs Bunny's puckish dastardliness but is too leaden to break Freleng.

And since the country's own armed forces, as well as their press, are incompetents who can't be bothered, this is Chuck Norris' victory and his alone, even during the overpopulated showdown replete with death by rocket launcher. Invasion U.S.A. is Death Wish 3 without the generosity of spirit.

Of all these thankless bit parts, the one that truly stands out in the worst way is newswoman McGuire, acted out by Melissa Prophet in one of those rare abysmal performances which the Golden Raspberry committee inexplicably passed over (really, why pick on Talia Shire?). I suppose Prophet's ball-busting petulance is meant to convey "pluck," but all I could see was Margot Kidder bled of any and all charm. McGuire is a work of harebrained art: she appears at crime scenes taking random photographs which serve no investigative purpose, but still castigates everyone in her company. She even throws bratty obscenities and trash can lid at Hunter after he rescues her.

All the while, Hunter goes about inquiring for Rostov's whereabouts (the dictator frequently hangs back in beer commercial luxury), stopping at a bar/brothel in the proverbial "Wrong Side of Town" to rough up one of Rostov's easily-distracted lackeys. The single inspired moment of Invasion U.S.A. arrives when Hunter threatens one of the chunky bouncers with ideological bluntness: "I'll hit you with so many rights, you'll be begging for a left!"

Sadly though, unlike my critical comrade Jack Sommersby, I can't quite work up a rage-on for director Joseph Zito (The Prowler, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter). When you get right down to it, he's just another in Cannon's stable of hacks, domestic and imported. This is so aggressively a Chuck Norris project that I wonder if Zito even helmed half the movie. Besides, it could have been much worse: Golan & Globus could have pawned this off to Boaz Davidson.

Invasion U.S.A. is a childish regression for everyone involved, especially when re-watching this after Operation Thunderbolt. The nobility and gravity of that one is dearly missed as trucks race through shopping malls in as sad a testament to testosterone as any other prolonged numbing of both brain and butt. Not even the late Richard Lynch, as iconic a B-movie heavy as Klaus Kinski by virtue of his scarred visage (it's scarier than any Tom Savini gore effect), can dignify this nonsense. 

Chuck Norris will carry on, though. You can throw as many veggies at him as you please, he'll just roundhouse kick them into a delicious garden salad and dress it with an entire bottle of Ichor.


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