A Soviet spy recruits an army of international terrorists. Their mission: infiltrate the United States, wreaking havoc and inciting civil war. They only have three obstacles to overcome: The army, the CIA and Chuck-friggin-Norris.
Anyone who’s read my books knows I love some good old fashion shoot-‘em-up, smash-‘em-up carnage… especially when it’s served up in R-Rated, 1980’s style. Few movies epitomize that mullet era excess better than 1985’s Invasion USA. I think the film’s elevator pitch was, ‘Subtle characterization and plot nuances be damned… we’ve got stuff to blow up!’ It’s also a Cannon Films production—a brand which carries its own dime store cachet.
Most films from Golan and Globus’s Cannon films were memorable primarily for their innate cheapness, something they wear like a badge of honor. Even when the Go-Go boys spent actual money on productions like Masters of the Universe (1987) it still wound up looking schlocky. It was as if being ‘almost good’ was in their business plan. Before you start writing nasty comments let me add that Cannon’s 1985 film Runaway Train is one of the greatest action/suspense films out there.
But Invasion was a change of pace—a big budget ($12 million) movie that managed to look even bigger. Much of that is due to director Joseph Zito (Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, 1984, and The Prowler, 1981), who had also helmed Norris’s 1984 hit, Missing in Action. But plenty of credit also goes to Second Unit Director Newt Arnold and Stunt Coordinator Don Pike, who collectively demolished half of Atlanta, Georgia. The non-CGI flaming explosions and low altitude helicopter flybys are eye-popping. Fun fact: Nobody got injured.
So, what’s the plot? Soviet agent Mikhail Rostov (Richard Lynch) and his sidekick Nikko (Alexander Zale) recruit an army of evil terrorists by shouting, “I want rustlers, cut throats, murderers, bounty hunters, desperados, mugs, pugs, thugs, nitwits, halfwits…” Oh, wait, that was Blazing Saddles, but you get the idea. Their goal is to create anarchy in the USA. But Rostov’s arch nemesis, CIA agent Matt Hunter (Chuck Norris), comes out of retirement to save the homeland. Hunter’s cunning plan is to magically appear wherever evil is happening and give the bad guys, “So many rights, you’ll be begging me for a left,” or just gun them down with his twin Uzis. This forces Rostov to alter his plans, focusing his evil army solely on killing Matt Hunter. You don’t need to see the movie to guess who wins.
If the plot sounds ridiculous, that’s partially because producers Golan and Globus chopped out anything that resembled investigation or character development, or even people standing still. As a result, Norris seems to have a psychic link with his adversary, predicting all his moves. But that weird story butchery can actually enhance your enjoyment of Invasion USA, because if they didn’t bother explaining it, you shouldn’t let it bother you.
And, if it all sounds kind of xenophobic and jingoistic… it is. Norris wrote the story himself, clearly influenced by the previous year’s Red Dawn. but Invasion USA is played to such an absurd level that it’s difficult to be offended. The terrorists are a hodgepodge of Russians, Cubans, South Americans and East Germans, so it’s equal opportunity xenophobia. Just stop thinking so much.
In place of a logical plot, we get gun fights galore, an air boat chase through the everglades, a wild car chase through a mall, an entire neighborhood being blown up with LAWs Rockets, tanks, jeeps and helicopters exploding, Chuck Norris kicking people in the head, and an adorable armadillo scampering around. It’s Hong Kong level chaos expertly served up by director Joseph Zito. Chuck Norris doing his own stunts adds an extra shot of testosterone to this chaotic cocktail.
The director still manages to sneak in some subtle visual touches, such as Nikko enjoying the Tonight Show on a portable television resting next to a pair of dead swimmers. Zito wisely shies away from showing too many innocent people dying, but he does offer some chilling glimpses of the aftermath, particularly a burnt carnival ride. These bits provide enough extra flourish to separate Invasion from Cannon’s more formulaic Charles Bronson flicks. Please note that I love Charles Bronson, but his later Cannon films were pretty much paint by numbers.
Chuck Norris is, to a degree, playing Chuck Norris, and that’s fine. From 1983’s Lone Wolf McQuade on he’d grown more comfortable being on screen without kicking someone. He doesn’t have many light hearted moments, but what can you expect from a character whose catchphrase is, “It’s time to die.” Zito wisely surrounds Norris with action/exploitation movie veterans. These include the always spot-on Richard Lynch (Sword and the Sorcerer, 1982), a blink and you’ll miss him Billy Drago (The Untouchables, 1987) and character actor Alexander Zale (Firefox, 1982) as villain number two. Melissa Prophet (Casino, Goodfellas) plays the plucky reporter. She doesn’t display much chemistry with Norris, but maybe Golan and Globus just edited all their lighthearted moments out. Interestingly Norris wanted to cast Whoopi Goldberg in that role, but Zito declined. This is shocking for two reasons. One, try picturing Chuck Norris and Whoopi Goldberg chilling out together, and two, someone actually said no to Chuck Norris and still had a head.
Invasion also benefited from having makeup effects wizard Tom Savini on board, providing a plethora of splat-tastic bullet hits and some way too close to the testicles muzzle blasts that will make you cringe. Savini had previously worked with Zito on The Prowler and Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, and they clearly made a winning team.
My final verdict? Invasion USA is a silly movie, with a slightly xenophobic message, but it delivers triple scoops of everything you want in a 1980’s slam bang action movie. For that I give it high ratings. It’s streaming on platforms like Tubi, and is well worth a watch.
I’ll close with a personal note. Back when I was growing up, the standard dismissal for a weak movie was, “Well, that was no Gone With the Wind.” Ironically, during the early 2000’s Invasion USA was MGM’s second biggest home video seller… right behind Gone With the Wind. So there.
And, if you’re looking for some slam bang horror action check out my latest novel Dominant Species, published by those masters of monster mayhem at Severed Press. It’s waiting for you on Amazon.