Invasion USA

There is a reason why Arnold Schwarzenegger was the king of the 80's action heroes: he was the actor who was best able to walk the thin line between a joke and being in on the joke. For example, Commando is self-aware enough that it can be enjoyed either as an over-the-top action movie or as a parody of over-the-top action movies. For the uninitiated, Commando culminates in a long scene where Arnold's character John Matrix single-handedly destroys an entire army as if he was in a video game where he had unlocked God mode - he never misses, he never ducks, and he never reloads. When I saw that movie as a kid I thought Commando was a super cool movie about an incredible bad-ass; now that I'm older I think it is a subtler version of Last Action Hero, the movie where Arnold set out to explicitly riff on how unrealistic his movies were. 

Now, Chuck Norris might be just as good at ass kicking as Arnold, but he is a far inferior screen hero because he never seems like he's in on the joke. Take Invasion USA for example. This is a movie where Norris is the only American who is prepared to defend his country against an invading army of 400 or so Russian types. And not just any Russian types - Russian types who are so evil that they would strap a C4 bomb to a bus full of school children and drive away laughing. (Many of them have mustaches, but they never twirl them while they are doing their evil deeds - a real missed opportunity.) There are so many bad guys and they are so obviously evil that Norris has no choice but to murder them all on sight - which he does so with such robotic precision that he might as well be an all denim wearing Terminator.

However, unlike with Commando, Invasion USA is definitely a movie that you are laughing at, not with, because Norris never winks at the camera. This movie climaxes with Norris and the bad guy getting into a bazooka-off in the hallway of a random office building in Atlanta, and when Norris fires his rocket first, blowing his nemesis into chum, his facial expression doesn't change. He doesn't seem particularly happy that his quest is over, nor does he seem relieved. It just seems like he's thinking about the next guy he's going to have to murder with his patented double-Uzi attack. His unrelenting grimness in the face of such unabashed silliness gives the film an air of irony that I don't think was intentional.

Norris is physically capable of being an action star, and I can see why his stoic cowboy character would appeal to people. The problem is that his persona doesn't seem to have many distinguishing features. Invasion USA happened to star Norris, but you could have plugged in any of the gruff murderous white guys who were popular during this time period and you would have gotten pretty much the same movie. Hell, Invasion USA might have even been  better had they cast a more versatile actor in Norris' part. For example, there is a scene where Norris is trying to wrangle a gator in front of his character's home in the Everglades that reminded me of Jean Claude Van Damme's Hard Target, which was also set in the bayou. However, if Van Damme had been in this movie he would have at least changed his facial expression from time to time. (That is, after all, a hallmark of his style.) Say what you will about Schwarzenegger but he never felt replaceable in his own movies.

 He looks very concerned for a man who is holding a bazooka. Also: he looks like a muppet who somehow became a man.

He looks very concerned for a man who is holding a bazooka. Also: he looks like a muppet who somehow became a man.

So, if Invasion USA is entertaining and yet unmemorable, what do you say about it? Well, as I've previously covered, when I see a movie that is slight and silly I sometimes like to comment on it using haikus, which are also short but fun. Here are a few poems that this movie inspired:

 

1.

If clothes make the man

then consider Chuck Norris

a denim monster

2.

I get it: you're bad.

By all means act out! But bomb

a school bus? Really?

3.

A subtle anti

gator agenda appears

Stance on crocs unknown

4. 

First: two girls, one cup

Then: two men, two bazookas

The future scares me

5. 

Hey Chuck you do know

your face is allowed to move?

Hell, Van Damme's Can't Stop

6. 

Commando just called

It mocks your bazooka fight

Not enough rockets

 

Seriously, though: this movie is a pretty solid shoot 'em up... But it ain't no Commando.

Winner: Draw

Invasion USA on IMDB