Monday, March 16, 2020

Thud and Blunder

In celebration of Chuck Norris' eightieth birthday - for the redneck action star did, indeed, become an octogenarian last week - I decided to watch Invasion USA (1985), one of his biggest grossing pictures.  Now, to say that Norris is an actor of limited range, or that Joseph Zito is a director of limited ability would hardly be controversial, but I was surprised at just how poor the film seems now.  It isn't just the relentless one note jingoism of the script - basically, 'Those Godless commie bastards, is there no depravity they won't stoop to?' - I mean, you expect that from an eighties Chuck Norris movie, nor the production values, which are surprisingly good for a Cannon produced film.  Rather, it is the sheer incompetence of it, the lack of any discernible style or proper pacing.  Sure, it has lots of spectacular action sequences - which even include the destruction of real buildings (they were due to be demolished as part of an airport extension) - but they are slapped together almost arbitrarily.  There is no sense of any plot development (let alone character development), it all feels like a series of loosely connected set pieces, with no linking narrative to either explain or put in context what we are seeing.  Significantly, in the documentary, Electric Boogaloo: The Wild Untold Story of Cannon Films, it was claimed that Cannon's owners, the notorious Golan and Globus, were so impressed by the rushes of the action scenes they were seeing that they insisted that more such material be filmed, at the expense of the rest of the narrative.

If true, this would explain why a large part of Invasion USA's running time consists of Chuck magically appearing at the scene of the bad guys' next planned atrocity just in the nick of time to blow them all away.  There's no explanation of how he knows their plans - OK, I know that he beats some information out of one of their guys in a hotel room, but we don't see or hear him give Chuck that detail of information.  Really, it is like he's psychic or something.  Subsequently, there's no sense of momentum.let alone peril - you just know that indestructible Chuck will always be there to save the day and blow away those two-dimensional cardboard commies who are trying to undermine the American dream by making people think that the police are racists and the military commit war crime-style atrocities.  Outrageous.   On a certain level it was quite entertaining - I hesitate to say a cartoonish level, as it would be a very badly drawn cartoon.  What really struck me, while watching Invasion USA, was just how inferior it was to some of the contemporary Italian action films I've seen of late.  I have no doubt, for instance, that Invasion USA had a far bigger budget than, say, The Atlantis Interceptors (which I intend looking at in more detail at a later date), which I also recently watched, yet the Italian film was superior in every department.  Even with the handicap of dubbing for the English-language version, the performances in Atlantis Interceptors are far more credible, for instance.  It also has a much more inventive script, better pacing and slickly efficient direction from Ruggero Deodato.  Most of all, it was fun.  Barking mad, bur fun.  Whereas Invasion USA was barking mad, but ultimately not much fun.  Perhaps Chuck Norris should have gone to Italy to make direct-to-video action films rather than have signed a contract with Cannon - his films might have weathered better when seen again today.

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