American cinema has never had any shortage of war movies, which points to an inherent national belligerence while also providing a fascinating lens through which to view different historical periods. Contemporary combat dramas, for example, remain fixated on expressions of valor and heroism while bearing the clear psychological scars of nearly 20 years of uninterrupted bloodshed. Reflecting a country that’s been visibly damaged, haunted by death and guilt, they also often evince a determination to push through with even greater resolve. This is a clear contrast to the cocky, comparatively carefree mindset of ‘80s America, the national equivalent of a bully spoiling for a fight with someone its own size. While there’s many contenders for the title, perhaps no film better sums up the ridiculous, rootless militarism of Reagan-era America than 1985’s Invasion U.S.A., a gaudy Golan-Globus shlock-fest that’s short on narrative coherence but suffused with brawny, brainless muscle-flexing.

Comprising 110 minutes of action set pieces haphazardly strung together, the film is pinioned by a typically wooden Chuck Norris performance, although the bearded kung fu master gets a bit more flash than usual as Matt Hunter, an Everglades-dwelling gator wrangler who spends his off hours cruising the mangrove swamps in a fan boat. Eating freshly caught frogs, hanging out with a pet armadillo and his Native American pal at a backwater tourist stop, he occupies a lifestyle befitting a former CIA superman now enjoying a well-deserved retirement. This is all literally blown to pieces when an old adversary comes calling atop his own flotilla of fanboats. In the first of many pyrotechnics extravaganzas, bazooka rounds get shot off like Fourth of July fireworks, and Hunter only narrowly manages to escape the conflagration.

We soon learn that our hirsute hero isn’t the only target, but merely the first. In fact, the assassination attempt prefigures a full-scale invasion of the U.S. mainland, accomplished via a squadron of landing vessels disembarking on a Florida beach. A motley crew of international criminals and mercenaries – mostly Russians and Cubans with a few odd Red Chinese thrown into the mix – seems to represent a coordinated effort by all of America’s enemies to take out the world’s biggest superpower from the inside.

At the head of this operation is Rostov (Richard Lynch), a Soviet agent who’s also Hunter’s sworn nemesis. The two obviously have history, hinted at through flashbacks to a banana republic rendezvous in which Hunter had the chance to pull the trigger, but was forced to hold back due to pesky restrictions against state-sanctioned CIA murders. Evincing an obvious libertarian streak, Invasion fittingly blares pro-U.S. pride at every juncture while also consistently demeaning the perceived limitations of our democratic system, implicating bureaucracy as a clear barrier to defense. It’s the kind of movie where police, government and the military are all helpless to deal with a machine-gun toting gallery of monsters, but one denim-clad warrior has more than enough moxie to take down scads of enemies on his own.

It’s unclear why the entire might of the U.S. army has such trouble tracking down a huge host of armed men, although there’s a few subtle hints that the group has broken apart and begun linking up with like-minded subversives, conducting a kind of Maquis terrorist warfare in the hopes of turning the populace against one another. As led by the utterly villainous Rostov, however, they mostly seem to settle for demolishing the sacred cows of American culture, blowing up a suburban block laden with Christmas decorations one house at a time, or demolishing an entire mall during the prime Holiday Season. What exactly is going on outside of these explosive confrontations is a total mystery, as Invasion U.S.A. is almost experimental in its straightforward viciousness, with a barebones plot and little else in the way of dialogue, including a love interest who barely speaks and ultimately gets zero attention from Norris, who’s too caught up toggling between bare-knuckle bruising and dual-Uzi action.

Each scene in fact adheres to the same general principle. Some sweet, intrinsically American scenario is set forth, and it’s only a matter of time before havoc will be wreaked, often with the help of a bazooka or two. The violence and craziness are gradually ratcheted up, and there’s a few interludes involving hand-to-hand combat and handgun crotch shots that limit the carnage to bad guys, but Invasion U.S.A. otherwise displays an insatiable lust for cultural sacrilege that’s only slightly countermanded by its can-do American spirit. At the core of all this nonsensical tough-guy posturing lies a dark, almost nihilistic view of the world, one in which nothing is ever safe, and man’s base, essential aggressiveness can only be satisfied by the cleansing fires of war.

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