And so it begins…
It’s New Year’s Day 2013 and I am tired, grumpy and up far too early. But I’m excited, as today is the day my descent into action movie Hard Bastard insanity begins. Pleasingly, the first film out of the Tub of Death is a belter: Missing In Action director Joseph Zito’s insane 1985 actioner Invasion U.S.A. Co-written by main star Chuck Norris, this barmy tale about a one-man-army’s attempts to rescue America from a full-on terrorist invasion is enjoyable, easy viewing and a perfect start to my Hard Bastards experiment.
Norris is Matt Hunter, an unfeasibly indomitable semi-retired Special Forces agent-cum-alligator wrangler, enjoying his solitude in the Florida swamps. However, when the villainous Rostov - a spy whose life hunter once spared, under orders from his CIA bosses – plans to unleash a reign of terror on US soil, Hunter must leave the quiet life behind and return to doing what he does best: Kicking terrorist butt! These are terrorists of the worst kind, dispassionately bombing shopping malls, shooting helpless refugees and vaporizing a suburban neighbourhood…at Christmas!!! While their motives are never really explained, these are baddies that you desperately want to see punished and Chuck is only too happy to oblige. This is one of those outrageous Cannon films from the 80s, when action films were really over-the-top, violent and bloodthirsty – put simply, it’s a berserk, trigger-happy, forgotten classic.
Hunter is an action man with a reputation so great that the villains feel they have to murder him before they even begin their mission, almost as if they know he’s the only man alive who could stop them. In fact, Hunter is so damn tough, Rostov – a child-killing, woman-hating psychopathic sonofabitch – actually has nightmares about him. Nightmares where instead of shooting him when he has the chance, Hunter just boots him in the face for fun. He really is quite hard. His cronies think he’s crazy, but Rostov insists “as long as he’s breathing, he’s a threat!” Nice.
Ironically, when approached with intel about the impending situation, the veteran had told his bosses where to stick the assignment, but when the baddies decide to bazooka his house with his best pal inside, all bets are off. Hunter is so tough he survives the assault that completely decimates his house by jumping through a plate glass window and rises from the ashes to seek REVENGE. It is a truly awesome cinematic moment, as the stoic tough guy carries his deceased gator-wrangling buddy through the remains of the burning house, with the most affecting stern expression on his face. It’s this look that says all we need to know about his character: emanating a grizzled, world-weariness from his tired eyes, he’s not sad, just disappointed, like he knew this day would come. The past has caught up with him and it is time to put things right. There is no time for tears, as Hunter walks straight from the wreckage to his awesome swamp-cruising airboat and heads off on a collision course with destiny. It is simultaneously ridiculous and astonishing: a classic action movie moment.
It takes an age for Chuck to actually kill anyone in this one, but the way things slowly build up and the more we learn about his character, we just know that when he is called into action it’s going to be BOOM time. Meeting in a gloriously grimy dive bar, supercool Hunter finally accepts the assignment, leaving the suits to pick up his tab. Then, completely fearless, the unflappable warrior drives his jeep straight through quite possibly the most blood-curdling, dodgiest neighbourhoods on earth, populated with fearsome pimps, hos, punks, gangbangers and numerous unsavoury types who attack his car, while barely batting an eyelid. He is totally focussed - there is only the mission.
When he does finally take on the baddies, the action is suitably riotous. As one guy is stabbed through the hand for the purpose of extracting information, steely-eyed Hunter dares his muscle-bound lackeys to intervene, brilliantly goading, “If you come back in here, I’m gonna hit you with so many rights, you’re gonna beg me for a left!” Their fear is palpable as after busting a few heads, Hunter signs with his catchphrase: “Tell Rostov…it’s time to die.”
From here on in, it’s non-stop bonkers action mayhem, with Hunter proving himself to be a seemingly unstoppable juggernaut of justice. So many bullets are fired at this man, it’s a wonder he doesn’t get lead poisoning, but time and time again he emerges unscathed. In fact, I don’t think anyone even gets close to touching him, never mind hurting him. Whether leaping onto the sides of speeding cars, single-handedly taking on a helicopter, or removing a bomb from a school bus, just to chuck it straight back at the bastards who put it there, Hunter emerges as the quintessential valiant all-American action hero. Constantly putting himself in the line of fire to rescue those weaker than himself, he is never anything less than heroic: a determined, swaggering one-man rocket-launching freedom force, here to clean up the streets. Even in the midst of a thrilling car chase, where the despicable terrorists hang an innocent girl from the window as a human shield, Hunter never, ever looks worried or phased – he’s on the side of the angels and he knows it. It’s no wonder Melissa Prophet’s gutsy journalist repeatedly refers to him as ‘The Cowboy.’
This mask of utter coolness never slips, Hunter stalking slowly but confidently from each danger zone to the next. There is next to zero characterisation in this film, but that barely matters when you have a hero so tough, so Shaft-supercool that he tells the goddamn CIA what to do. His greatest moment, though, may just be when, arrested for vigilantism, he is interviewed on live TV and stares right into the lens to address his nemesis, proclaiming, almost prophetically, “One night, you’ll close your eyes…and when you open them…I’ll be there…And then it’ll be time to die.”
The carnage is consistently aesthetically pleasing, with plenty of tanks, choppers, cars and buildings exploding spectacularly as civil war rages across the country. Norris gets the chance to wield all sorts of impressive ordnance, including one exceptionally Big Fucking Gun (B.F.G.), but pleasingly doesn’t forget to showcase the martial arts skills that made him famous. Running around with two machine guns, Hunter occasionally throws a few expertly timed kicks in there too, just because it looks cool.
Though the furious final showdown with Rostov takes place in the exceptionally dull surroundings of an abandoned office building, the battle is nevertheless a cracker, the arch enemies audaciously squaring off in a ludicrous Mexican standoff with bazookas. As Hunter whispers “It’s time…” it is a suitably mental crescendo to a wonderfully mental film that shows that Chuck Norris is one Hard Bastard who it’s going to be difficult to beat. Happy New Year!
INDESTRUCTIBILITY: 10/10 – This guy is bulletproof
COMBAT SKILLS: 7/10 – He kicks major ass, but maybe depends on his guns too much.
ATTITUDE: 10/10 Unflappable, gallant, hard-as-nails: an All-American Hero.
OUTRAGEOUSNESS: 8/10 Bazooka fight, anyone?
BODY COUNT: 30 kills in 107 minutes? Solid but unremarkable. 3/10
CHUCK’S SCORE: 38/50