Looking back at Chuck Norris’ Invasion U.S.A.

Chuck Norris beats up Russia in Invasion U.S.A. Here's Matt's look-back at a big, blustery, silly action movie...

Invasion U.S.A. has the greatest film poster ever made. It’s just so incredibly tough. Stare for too long at the Invasion U.S.A. poster and you risk a chemical balance in your body. In fact, 75% of Olympics drug scandals have been linked to athletes becoming exposed to the Invasion U.S.A. poster. Don’t feel sorry for them; the poster is listed as a banned substance and athletes who spend time looking at it are doing so to gain a competitive edge. Simply put; it’s not fair to the other shot-putters for you to harness the power of Chuck Norris.

As keen as I am to tell you about this Norris-starring 80s action movie, it would be irresponsible of me not to show you the poster first.

You’ll never read this sentence on Den of Geek again, but I’d advise you to take a moment to ice down your groin before proceeding with the article.

Right, now onto the actual film. Invasion U.S.A. starts with brutal, merciless boat murder, which would never have happened if Chuck Norris was a mermaid. The water slaughter is perpetrated by Rostov, who leads a small army into the United States of America to sort of take it over and wreck it. Bastard! The US armed forces and police aren’t prepared to deal with the attack (I imagine that nowadays the US military has a button they can press for situations like this. A big red ‘call Chuck Norris’ button), which manifests itself as lots of acts of terrorism across the country. Chuck Norris is in a constant state of readiness, though, so Americans can sleep soundly in their beds, assuming they’re not woken up by all of the agonised villain screaming.

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Invasion U.S.A. is essentially the account of a small army conducting tests to find out how many heavily armed killers are ‘enough’ to take out Chuck Norris.

Further experimentation is required.

Invasion U.S.A. is utterly ridiculous and kind of brilliant. It has a fairly slow first half hour, a pretty fun middle where the action picks up and then a finale so violent that 2 out of every 5 football hooligans find it ‘a bit much’. It’s constructed in a fairly episodic way, after its drowsy set-up, with a collection of action sequences strung together, paying little mind to story or character.

While Norris’ Matt Hunter isn’t a particularly interesting hero (we’ll come to him in a bit), Richard Lynch’s Rostov is a wonderfully slimy, unlikeable villain. It’s entirely down the performance, too, as on paper there’s little more to the character than ‘foreign’, ‘brutal’ and ‘furious with Chuck Norris’. It’s a good performance; Rostov comes across as a creepy dude who’s full of humanity instead of just a cardboard evil brute.

Rostov is haunted by nightmares of Chuck Norris, which is fair. He demands that his army take Norris out before they attempt to invade the US, which is as solid a military strategy as I’ve ever heard. Disclaimer: I don’t hear a lot of military strategies. That said, the way the film plays out suggests that Rostov might not be familiar with the term strategy at all. In the final showdown, he leads his army into a huge office-block type building before declaring “it’s a trap”. When your plan is ‘attack Chuck Norris’, and the trap is that he’s there, it’s difficult for us to know how to help you. The majority of his soldiers wisely opt to take on the entire US army outside instead, while those who remain engage in a game of machine gun hide and seek with Chuck Norris. An incredible amount of death ensues.

Rostov’s plans throughout the film are pure bullshit. He’s clearly got a problem with scale. There’s no way his army is big enough to take over the entire U.S.A. (although the film certainly isn’t short of extras) and the tactics they use, small attacks to frighten people and create social tensions and distrust, don’t seem like they were the result of forethought by someone who quite understood how physically big the US is. As an example, Rostov and a colleague turn up in a suburban neighbourhood and start exploding houses with a rocket launcher. If their plan is to blow up America one house at a time this invasion is going to take fucking ages. It will take so long that people will make cheap ‘Peter Jackson should make a film about it!’ jokes. By the time they finish Americans will have had ample time to rebuild half of what’s been blown up.

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The blowing up houses scene is a fascinating one, as it demonstrates a major difference between modern action films and this Cannon produced beauty. In the 80s actions movie tradition of doing something a bit uncomfortable to sell how evil your bad guy is, Invasion U.S.A. shows us a lovely family putting up their Christmas decorations just before it explodes them. Now, I did find watching a young child stagger from the remains of her recently blown-up house a little over the top, but it felt more honest than the recent trend of action movies showing violence as consequence-free in order to secure a more profitable 12A age rating. Invasion U.S.A. thoroughly earns its 18 rating.

Another potentially bothersome thing about Invasion U.S.A. is that it is, at times, very guilty of pandering to its audience (terrorists discuss amongst themselves that they will use America’s freedom against it). Made during The Cold War, the whole thing is essentially Chuck Norris beats up Russia. It’s particularly annoying because they don’t even really commit to it. If you’re going to be nationalistic and pandering, really go for it and show us Chuck Norris nude, wrapped in the American flag, sexing an eagle. Cowards.

There are a couple of moments addressing the realities of a war in America and they’re actually quite interesting. Children are evacuated and there’s a town store having to limit what people can buy because it’s running out of food. This is not the right film to properly explore the idea of an invaded America, and they quickly segue from these bits into more fitting ‘shot-right-in-the-fucking-face’ bits, but I think it’s good that they’re there. It adds a sniff of depth to the film, or at least suggests a little thoughtfulness from the team behind the film (thanks director Joseph Zito and writers Aaron Norris, Chuck Norris and James Bruner!).

It’s also due praise for being such a big, extravagant production. There are so many extras on screen that at times you might actually believe Chuck Norris is in peril, and there is such large scale destruction that you’re left in no doubt that he actually isn’t. Invasion U.S.A. is chock-full of tanks, guns, helicopters and kabooms. The final battle features so much fire that there was a flame drought that summer, even though that contradicts how fire works.

Now let’s move onto Chuck Norris. His character Matt Hunter was once generously described as a character (in this article, at the beginning of this sentence). Chuck Norris’ Matt Hunter’s character arc is essentially;

Nah, fuck it.

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Ugh, fuck you.

Hey, fuck you!

FUCK YOU!

He mostly just swans about being Chuck Norris, shooting people and occasionally reciting words that he seems both bored by and unfamiliar with. Hunter is a former CIA agent. He declines a request to come back to work to take out Rostov, only for Rostov to attack his home, exploding it and killing Norris’ dear friend. Chuck then decides that he will kill Rostov and his goons after all, and just purposefully gets on with doing it. He’s not a character that fusses a lot. It’s surprising that the film works so well in regard to Norris, as he’s never been the warmest actor and it doesn’t lean on his renowned martial arts skills at all. He does bring a certain swagger to the role; a bearded bastard confidently machine-gunning anyone who steps into his path while, for the most part, clad entirely in denim. It might be that his seeming confusion at or disinterest in everything going on around him works in his favour; every time he’s on screen he essentially shrugs at the film and then starts shooting.

I suppose that’s how Invasion U.S.A. best utilises Norris; by basically making him the kind of superhero the internet has joked about him being for the last ten years. His is introduced to us helping to wrangle a gator. Shortly afterwards, he chainsaws some wood. Not as part of the plot, but you know, Chuck Norris and a chainsaw. The bad guys attack. Coming for Chuck Norris while he’s chainsawing, at the height of his sexual powers, seems daft to me. It proves so.

A typical action sequence in Invasion U.S.A. starts with Chuck Norris driving about in his truck, wearing leather gloves and listening to smooth jazz. Then he will pull over somewhere and an incredible shootout will occur. Occasionally he gets impatient and is forced to start some kind of in-transit ruckus, such as in the scene where he drives his truck into a shopping mall and smashes everything and everyone into smithereens. The end result is a tinsel-draped bloodbath. Merry Chuckmas.

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Much of Chuck Norris’ heroism, such as the previously mentioned Xmas mall mania, comes from him coincidentally or unexplainably being in the right place at the right time.  I think the implication is that he might be god. I’m not one for trying to dig up a subtext where there clearly isn’t one, but when Norris gives himself up to the police, or sacrifices himself, the scene is very clearly trying to evoke crucifixion.

Ok, so it’s a fairly relaxed crucifixion, but still. Also, do you see his smooth, exposed chest? That’s not part of the theory but I thought it was worth checking that you’d noticed. Anyway, after his sacrifice Norris comes back from the dead, or from arrest, only it was actually a plan all along so it’s actually not like a religious subtext at all. Oh, and while I’m no Bible scholar, my understanding of Jesus’ return from the dead is that he didn’t blow anyone out of a window with a rocket launcher.

Oh, and Jesus wasn’t god, right? So there are some holes in this theory, although I’d argue that it really makes you think. There’s certainly no denying that Chuck Norris has a beard for the entire runtime.

So, Invasion U.S.A. is the film you’d probably imagine Chuck Norris in if you had only heard about him through internet memes. Whether that’s a positive or a negative is on you. Personally, I think it’s tremendous fun. A big, blustery and silly action movie.