There is no such thing as a “perfect” Cannon movie (probably because they never came close to fucking making one), but if you were to ask me what the quintessential Cannon movie is, them my immediate answer would be Invasion USA. Cannon, of course, was the bombastic, cocaine dusted studio run by Israeli money men Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus and until their unsustainable business plan spectacularly imploded, they did God’s work by unleashing a string of ridiculous action movies onto the unsuspecting 80’s that mainly starred either Chuck Norris or a noticably aging Charles Bronson. Crass, absurdly patriotic and usually fairly offensive, such movies such as The Delta Force, American Ninja and Cobra regularly assaulted both audience’s eyeballs and sense of good taste while still boasting high production values and more explosions than the attack on Pearl Harbour – and the most Cannon of these movies was the one that asked the twin questions, what would happen if America was invaded by an army of terrorist mercenaries and what would it be like if they let Chuck Norris co-write it…?
Soviet operative Mikhail Rostov (played by the awesome sneering mixture of flared
nostrils and scar tissue that is Richard Lynch) is poised to launch an all out offensive on the United States Of America by an army of communist Latin American guerrillas who bankroll the invasion after slaughtering a group Cuban immigrants for their drugs. However, before this “terror-palooza” can begin, Rostov must snuff out the one man who could stop him: the iron beared, retired CIA agent known as Matt Hunter. Unknowingly botching the assassination, Rostov’s thugs enact cartoonishly vicious acts of terrorism up and down America that include, but aren’t limited to, bombing a department store and bazooka-ing a suburban town while people are hanging up their Christmas decorations, but Hunter, encrusted in seemingly inpenetrable denim, manages to beat the details of some of their plans out of an informant and sets off to halt this threat to the American way of life single handedly. But can even Chuck Norris stop an actual army, even when it’s the freedom of Americans at stake?
Made with all the restraint of a pyromaniac given unlimited access to a warehouse full of fireworks, director Joseph Zito is no stranger to amassing a vast bodycount thanks to his work on flashy slashers The Prowler and the fourth Friday The 13th, but compared to the steely glare of Carlos Ray Norris, the knife wielding killers of those movies are mere beginners. Make no mistake, Invasion USA is an incredibly violent movie which drives it’s point home (whatever it may be) by making us sit through a lot of explosive atrocities inflicted by a group who’s answer to most of life’s problems is to detonate vast quantities of real estate, often turning whole families into 2.4 children. But the wrong doers in this movie are so ridiculously evil that it’s tough to take all the cruel death and destruction that seriously.
Emerging as the film’s poster boy for ludicrously exaggerated evil, the script goes to impressive lengths to build up Mikhail Rostov as a truly detestable human being. Whether repeatedly discharging his gun down the front of the trousers of men who fail him (an unsettling M.O, even for a Cannon villain) and throwing a coke whore out of a second story window – to machine gunning an unarmed boat of Cuban immigrants he’s presumably designed to be as ruthless as a Cigarette Manufacturer’s lawyer as to justify the biblical justice Chuck Norris is destined to inflict on this mother of all motherfuckers. However, where most movies present their bad guys as emotionally stilted, fearless villains, Invasion USA plays the neat trick of having it’s ruthless antagonist actually be legitimately terrified of our hero and even is suffering from sweaty PTSD from a previous encounter with Hunter. Now, usually this would dilute the much needed tension, but instead it elevates Chuck from a mere action hero to a duel Uzi wielding demigod which ends up being the perfect antidote to the unsavoury acts of brutality witnessed during the opening half.
Popping up to thwart the terrorist’s plans on the most hilariously ironic ways possible, Chuck takes that blank scowl and immovable beard and calmy enacts smug retribution wherever he can and the results are blackly hilarious. Take for example the scene where some stone-faced bad guys drive up alongside to a school bus on the highway (naturally crammed with freckle faced white kids all singing Row, Row, Row Your Boat) and stick a time bomb to the side – to which Hunter responds to driving up, retrieving the bomb and cheekily sticking it back on the terrorist’s car before it blows. Or how about the bit where a maniac has a gun to a hostage’s head and Hunter pops up behind him and moves the firearm just as he fires so the lunatic blows his own brains out – it almost feels like the kind of shit Bugs Bunny would pull if Bugs Bunny was a patriotic death dealer with a personal body count figure that would stagger a Burmese warlord. While the film strangely decides to let a man who is a black belt in Tang Soo Do, Brazilian jiu jitsu and Judo not do a lot of actual martial arts, it does allow him blow a lot of shit up (the film is noticably obsessed with rocket launchers, even having our leads engage in a quickdraw bazooka contest during the climax – yes, you read that right: QUICKDRAW BAZOOKA CONTEST) and growl the immortal line “I’m gonna hit you with so many rights you’ll beg for a left.”.
Also, for a tremendously stupid movie, it’s final scenes are suprisingly huge in scale as while Chuck and Lynch stalk each other while shooting up an entire office building, the army is engaged in a full scale firefight with all of the terrorists who have decided to turn up and back up their boss (talk about putting all your eggs in one basket…) which up’s the production value considerably as there’s explosions and tanks fucking everywhere.
I mentioned earlier that I personally regard this as the quintessential Cannon action movie (loud, low rent and batshit crazy), but while we’re on the subject, despite the frustrating lack of sustained round house-kicking, Invasion USA is pretty much my favorite Chuck Norris movie too – although the hysterical gales of laughter that explode from my belly whenever I watch it was most likely not the reaction the filmmakers were hoping for.
An NRA member’s fondest wish and a trashy movie enthusiast’s wet dream, Invasion USA may not have been a movie to give any serious filmmakers sleepless nights – but it perfectly encapsulates the mission statement of a long-defunct movie studio that – like their bad guys – would also invade people homes with gunfire and booms.
Plus it’s a damn Christmas movie to boot!