Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Invasion U.S.A. (1985)

Some people cannot display emotions. It's just that simple. However, whether said person can help it or not determines how society at large deals with this trait. When found in a patient, it's viewed as a characteristic of a mental/developmental disorder. When found in a politician, it's viewed as a nigh-sociopathic lack of empathy (shocking thing, that) garnered from years of practice. And when it's found in an actor, it's viewed as a sign that "actor" is the one thing they should not be labeled. Yet, folks have become famous, flourished even, while essentially imitating the titular character in Lifeboat. Yet, this does not necessarily mean the affectless are also talentless. Charles Bronson was a master of this. His face was like a well-worn catcher's mitt, and his lips rarely moved, but you knew exactly what he was thinking and feeling. And it was usually anger. Is there any wonder, then, that action heroes are generally characterized as wooden actors? They're rarely called on to emote anything other than anger. Okay, maybe rage, occasionally.
(Chuck Norris doesn't see dead people. He makes dead people.)

Mikhail Rostov (Richard Lynch) and his communist cohorts have infiltrated the United States of America. Funding a mercenary army with cocaine money, the invasioneers ("invaders" just doesn't encompass it here, I think) infiltrate all areas of the country, sowing unrest in the American people. However, Rostov also holds a grudge against the one man who ever thwarted him (I assume) – Matt Hunter (Chuck Norris). Hunter, however, has retired to the bayous of Florida, where he helps his pal, John Eagle (Dehl Berti), wrassle 'gators. After making things personal for Hunter (I'll give you three guesses how), the Great White Asskicker conducts a one-man war against Rostov and his soldiers, killing his way to the top.

(Chuck Norris has already been to Mars; that's why there are no signs of life there.)

Saying that Joseph Zito's Invasion U.S.A. is a rote action flick, is like saying Chuck Norris has some body hair. While it maintains the very basic premise of Alfred Green's 1952 Invasion U.S.A. (and it should be stated, I've never seen anyone make the case that Zito's is a remake of it, though it had certainly been around long enough to have been seen by the filmmakers), the later film is not really concerned with what an actual invasion of communists would do to the country (the 1952 film is unrealistic in other ways). Certainly, they show vignettes of society breaking down (and I must say, this is one of the most orderly societal breakdowns I have ever seen), but the overarching storyline is actually an ever-escalating duel between two men who hate each other. In this light, the film can be seen as a Western (and I'm sure Mr. Norris would have it no other way), working its way up to the ineluctable showdown with very large "guns." The "what-if" aspects of the Battle-Of-The-Bulge-like siege are mere background noise to Norris's mission.

(Chuck Norris is the reason why Waldo is hiding.)

In many ways, the film is structured like a horror film. There are multiple scenes where we see faceless (even gloved, sometimes) stalkers skulking about in the shadows while unknowing potential victims go about their business. There's also the old trope of walking around a dark house, not knowing what's around the next corner. However, whereas the horror film's cathartic release is typically triggered by the killing of a character or characters who we probably like (though not always) but more importantly probably don't deserve it, the cathartic release in action films like this one is often triggered by the sudden killing of characters who we feel truly deserve it. These are bad men, and no amount of punishment is too much for them.

(Chuck Norris is what Willis was talking about.)

Enter Richard Lynch. No one signifies evil on sight (with the possible exception of Thanos; I'll let you look that one up) quite like this guy. In this film, as in so many others, he plays not just the villain but a sadist. It is not enough that he murders a boatload of people. He first lets them think everything is okay, and then proceeds to kill them all. And he does it all with a smile on his face. Rostov is obsessed with the idea of killing Hunter to the point that he has nightmares about it and would even jeopardize his mission to accomplish this goal. By contrast, Hunter (and what a telling name that is) wants nothing to do with anyone at the start (truly a reluctant hero) and has always believed that the higher-ups (read: bureaucracy) should have let him ice Rostov when he had the chance. The two characters are so antithetical to each other, they could just as easily be seen as God and the Devil in the eternal struggle. In fact, Hunter seems to appear at just the right moment to save people (a sort of serial killer of killers) for the entirety of the second and third acts, like a guardian angel with a beard.

(The chief export of Chuck Norris is pain.)

Two hallmarks of 1980s action films were communists and overkill. Not every actioner had both, but almost all had either one or the other. It's interesting to me that the two great periods of "Red Scare" cinema occurred about thirty years apart. In the 1950s, the theme was often embedded in the horror and science fiction genres (The Thing From Another World, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, It Conquered The World, etcetera) and rarely spoken of overtly (that was saved for "Red Scare" movies like the earlier Invasion U.S.A., another subgenre all its own). Then there was a lull in the prevalence of this theme in genre cinema, more likely than not precipitated by the rise of the public's interest in social concerns, the proliferation of psychedelic drugs, and the notion that "we are the monsters/Martians." Then, with no foreign war to distract the American public in the early 80s, the focus of villainy in pop culture turned again to the communists. 

(Chuck Norris counted to infinity – twice.)

Whether they were Latin American, Asian, or Russian, the Reds always seemed to have a plan to destroy us "Capitalist Pigs." And we, in turn, had enough hardasses and ordnance to blow them all back to the Stone Age. Invasion U.S.A. is no exception. Rostov doesn't just assassinate someone. He does it with a bazooka. It's not enough to shoot a bazooka at Hunter's cabin. You have to fire several, multiple times. Hunter doesn't just show up at the mall to take out the bad guys. He drives his pickup truck through the doors and walls, probably hurting more people than he's helping. But that's why we watch films like this one, and as an example of 1980s action movie excess, this one excels.

(When the Boogeyman goes to sleep every night, he checks his closet for Chuck Norris.)

MVT: Ironically, I'm giving director Joseph Zito the MVT here. He shoots and edits action exceptionally well. He uses the entirety of the screen, isn't afraid to move the camera, and throws a huge amount of production value onscreen. His pacing makes the film feel brisk, even at almost two hours of runtime.

Make Or Break: The scene where Lynch meets up with druglord, Mickey (Billy Drago), exemplifies everything that makes this movie and those like it so enjoyable. I won't spoil it for you, but it's sleazy, and over the top, and oh-so-satisfying.

Score: 7.5/10


  1. Another excellent, well-written review, Todd! I just watched this one for the first time and reviewed it on my blog a couple of months ago, and I was pretty blown away (no pun intended) by how insane it was. To me, this movie epitomizes what over-the-top 80's action is all about.

  2. Thanks, Aaron. I agree, this is all about "80s excess." And best of all, it's massively entertaining.

  3. Not only did I watch the movie many, many times as a young lad, I read the novelization! I scored it at a used bookshop and had to read it. Surprisingly, the book was better than the movie. (Doh!) The author filled out the characters more, slowed the pace a little, and explained more how and why Chuck's character appeared on-scene when he did. The set-up for the end was fleshed out, and I think the ending extended a bit so we weren't left with a last-page explosion. Basically, if they had filmed the book version, it would have been one of Chuck's all-time best along with Code of Silence and Delta Force. Instead, we get half a movie, really. Oh, and Chuck wrote in his autobiography that he wanted Whoopi Goldberg to play the part of the reporter, who was later played by some anonymous white woman. He thinks the movie would have been much better with Whoopi in it. I'll let you write the joke for that one.

  4. Thanks for reading, Brian.

    Novelizations are an odd bird, but they usually have the advantage of the space and means of expanding on things movies can't (or can't do plausibly or budgetarily[is that a word?]). There's probably a nice little niche market book to be written about the differences between movies/TV shows and their novelizations (note to self...).

    Either way, thank you very much for some added insight into this piece.

    And as for jokes, how's this? Whoopie! Catskills, here I come.