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I’ll admit it, I wasn’t a big Chuck Norris fan growing up. He did most of his action movies when I was a little kid and by the time I knew who he was, he was in full-blown late 80s karate mode, and, of course, Walker, Texas Ranger. I mean, I had rented The Delta Force and probably caught one of the Missing in Action movies on cable, but I didn’t know his canon.

So when I saw Invasion U.S.A. (1985) for the first time not so long ago, it was a hell of a treat.

There’s something about 80s action movies, especially lower budget ones—there’s a viciousness to them, a willingness to do over-the-top things the way 70s movies were willing to have some of the most bizarre and depressing endings in history.

Invasion was just plain fun and even a little shocking 30-plus years later.

It was one of a spat of movies Norris did for Cannon Films that were lucrative and followed the same basic formula. Norris played a former badass who is still a badass, but mostly retired. Something spurs him into action and he proceeds to kick the crap out of a whole bunch of really nasty bad guys until he wins.

Invasion U.S.A. movie poster.
Matt Hunter’s weapons of choice are twin Uzi Micro machine pistols that hang from a custom leather shoulder rig made by Desantis. This now famous promo image for the movie ended up on the poster and all over the place in the 80s. Note that we see Washington D.C. and New York City depicted on the poster for a movie set in Miami. IMDB

Here’s the setup, and this is how I absorbed it as a first time viewer. It’s the height of the Cold War and Soviet operative Mikhail Rostov (Richard Lynch) is leading a destabilization effort set to begin in Miami Florida and carried out by allied Russian and Cuban forces.

Rostov had a run in back in the day with special forces operator Matt Hunter (Norris), who told him it was “Time to die” while surprising him on an operation. Though he survived, Rostov still has nightmares about the encounter. He’s so haunted, that prior to the invasion, he and a group of bad guys attack Hunter’s home in the glades from fanboats and blow it to pieces, believing him to be dead.

The plan from there on is pretty simple, but really sinister as well. The invading force arrives by nighttime beach insertion—killing an innocent couple making out in the sand while watching a game show on a portable TV. They are supposed to be a group of Cuban and Russian guerrillas, but they’re outfitted more like third-world revolutionaries…but also sort of like mercenaries, but they’re all just a bit out of shape and shabby. And far too many of them wear sunglasses at night. It’s weird.

Bad guys and their guns in Invasion U.S.A.
(top) A good look at the fake pyrotechnic-firing “grenade launchers” mounted to the bad guys’ M16A1s, as well as some other guns they use. (bottom) The “troops” who invade Miami. That one dude on the right has a High Standard Model 10B bullpup shotgun. I suspect these extras were gathered from a local bar…late in the evening. imfdb.org

Then, they fan out all over Miami at Christmas time. First, Rostov heads into a suburban neighborhood that is so 80s Rockwell that I openly laughed. It’s a nighttime scene—a little girl climbs a big ladder in her front yard to put an ornament atop a massive pine tree in her family’s front yard. The whole thing is completely trimmed and shimmering. She runs into the house when her mom calls her for cocoa. There are young boy sin the streets tossing a football around as other ride down the immaculate street lined with perfect, modestly sized homes. The American suburban dream. Plus Christmas.

And then here comes Rostov in the back of a pickup truck with a magic rocket launcher. I say it’s magic because it looks like a typical shoulder mounted rocket launcher, in that it’s a tube with sights, sort of like a LAW with some extra stuff and a grip added to the bottom. But the magic part is that Rostov fires it over and over, as if it’s a semi-auto firearm, without reload it. There’s no magazine, there’s nobody feeding rockets into the back of it…it just, keeps firing rockets.

He proceeds to launch a rocket into each one of the perfect homes on the block while grinning like a madman, the first being the one the little girl who had been trimming the tree just ran into. In moments, the idyllic street is a burning war zone with screaming children running around and holiday decorations in flames. Ah, the 80s.

Then, the invaders attack mall. Because, of course they do. Then they start posing as police officers in stolen cruisers, and murdering unsuspecting groups of civilians on the street.

Hunter with his twin Micro Uzis and custom shoulder rig.
Hunter with his twin Micro Uzis. YouTube

As terror spreads, business shutter, the highways are shut down, and the National Guard is coming in. Then the bad guys start dressing like National Guardsmen and continue their attacks, creating more confusion and fear.

But they didn’t count on Matt Hunter. He’s in town and once he finds out what’s really going on, he starts tooling around town in his badass pickup truck with his twin Micro Uzi machine pistols that he wears hanging from a custom-made Desantis shoulder rig.

The pistols simply hang at his sides. When he wants to fire, he simply grabs them and shoots, not really bothering to aim. He uses these to great effect and no doubt is the reason so many toys and low-budget action movies in the 80s depicted heroes blazing away with akimbo uzi-like firearms.

But I give Norris credit. Those pistols were hard to control with a high rate of fire and serious muzzle climb, and throughout the movie, that’s exactly how Hunter uses them. He always fires them in bursts, and he often fires them at close targets on an upward swing, as in, he begins shooting as soon as he gets the muzzle up and let’s the muzzle rise carry the burst from the target’s knees to the chest.

If these are the guns you’re going to be using, this is about the most realistic way they can be depicted.

While the small magazines in the Micro Uzis certainly last longer than they should, you do see Hunter reload them every so often, and you even see a couple spare mags in his jean pockets that he uses toward the end in the office building assault.

Once those spare mags are spent, he drops the whole Uzi rig and picks up one of the guns used by several of the bad guys, including Rostov.

M16A1 with grenade launcher
Rustov’s favorite weapon is an M16A1 with a prop grenade launcher mounted beneath it. He uses it during the final showdown with Hunter in the offices. imfdb.org

We see several M16A1 and M16/SP1 rifles with custom long-barreled grenade launchers mounted under the barrel. It seems that they are supposed to emulate the early 40mm XM-148 grenade launcher used by SEALs in Vietnam before the M203 was adopted, but they look quite different. It’s a simple tube attached to the barrel with a bracket wrapping around the flash guard, the front sight and gas block, and behind the handguard near the delta ring. It has a pistol grip and trigger attached to it that shooters use as a vertical foregrip when firing both the rifle and the grenade launcher. The grip looks a lot like the grip on a Walther P38 pistol.

I don’t think I saw any grenades being carried or loaded into the launchers throughout the movie—perhaps they are built with the same magic as Rostov’s rocket launcher. They are certainly fired as if they are feeding from some unseen magazine.

When Hunter picks up the M16/launcher combination after his Uzis run dry…something happens. I don’t know what it is, but it’s something. After checking a few empty offices, Hunter comes to a closed door with two bad guys on the other side flanking it. His spidey senses tell him they’re there, so he slowly backs up, and then…I watched it a few times to make sure…he fires two rapid shots from the “grenade launcher” attached to his rifle (you can see it in the video below).

M16A1 Grenade Launcher
Once his Micro Uzis run dry, Hunter picks up a bad guy’s M16A1/grenade launcher combo. In the bottom photo, you can see the grip on the grenade launcher is basically the frame of a prop Walther P38 handgun. imfdb.org

So it seems, indeed, these fictional grenade launchers are semi-auto magic weapons like Rustov’s rocket launcher. But, up until that point, the launcher’s are depicted as firing high explosive rounds, but this seems like the launcher fired some kind of shotgun round? I mean, each shot blows a four-foot wide, round hole in the drywall from maybe 15 feet away. I have no idea.

Hunter checks the magazine on the rifle, sees its empty, and tosses the whole gun. One of the guys is still alive…so I guess Hunter shot them with grenade rounds that didn’t fly far enough to arm? Yeah, that’s what I’m going with. Anyway, he finishes that dude by throwing his knife, which he cannot retrieve and has to face Rustov and his M16 unarmed.

Hunter quick disarms him, and after they whoop on each other a bit in a pretty cool fight, Hunter disappears after throwing Rustov into a cubicle. Rustov picks up a rocket launcher like the one he used earlier in the movie, apparently from a downed bad guy and Hunter surprises him with a LAW rocket launcher (no magic on this one) that he also picks up, from a downed bad guy. Rocket launcher fight!

Hunter wins on the draw, fires it from the hip, activating the button trigger on top of the tube with his thumb, and nails Rustov with the rocket from 10 feet away.


The rocket, which likely wouldn’t even have had time to arm itself yet, smashes into Rostov, blowing him to pieces and sending those pieces and a chunk of the wall out the window behind him. (BTW, the audio dub on this clip below is hilarious.)

While all this is happening, we periodically cut to a non-stop 20 minute, hilarious firefight raging outside between the Russian/Cuban invaders and the National Guard, complete with tanks and heavy machine guns.

They literally stand there and shoot at each other in full auto, until the bad guys surrender. Both sides sort of move toward the general direction of cover, but most of them don’t fire from it, electing instead to stand in the open and blast away. One soldier actually stands up and fires his M60 one-handed from the hip like Rambo holding the ammo belt in the other hand…and gets shot. I have to think this is a jab at the successful Rambo series with First Blood released in 1982 and the sequel the same year as Invasion, and maybe even Commando (1985) in which Arnold does the same thing.

M60 machine guns
The National Guard troops have a number of mounted M60 machine guns on their vehicles. (bottom) One soldier fires his M60 one handed from the hip while feeding the ammo belt with the other and is quickly cut down by enemy fire. This may just be a jab at First Blood from 1982. imfdb.org

MISSES:

Most of the gun use in this movie is ridiculous. Nobody aims, hardly anyone reloads, and the hero has an infallible aim while the bad guys spray in full auto and can’t hit a barn, unless they’re shooting at unarmed civilians, that is.

GOOD IMPACTS:

Despite the fact that Hunter uses Micro Uzis as his choice of primary weapons, Norris makes an effort to, at least, use them in a realistic way, firing in bursts and using the firearm’s inherently strong muzzle climb.

VERDICT:

Despite all that, I simply have to place this flick in the So Bad It’s Good bin. The guns we get to see on camera in this movie are awesome, as the terrorists have a smattering of diverse firearms. In addition to the hero’s Micro Uzis, which were pretty cutting edge for the time, and the National Guard’s Browning M2s and M60s, we see the bad guys shooting, M16A1s, Valmet M76s, Ruger AC556, AK-47s, MP40s, Carl Gustav M/45 submachine guns, Smith & Wesson M76 sub guns, MAC-10s, Uzis, and even an HK P9S handgun and an M1911 with a bizarre double barreled scope mounted on it.

Plus, I have to say, as I’m working my way through his movies, I just love how Chuck Norris characters never get busted up too badly—other than in the Missing In Action movies. In this one, Hunter doesn’t even get his hair mussed or dirty his denim ensemble. Other than a decorative bloody cut just above the right eye gently trickling into his beard, he doesn’t have a mark on him. Compare that to the ending of any Rambo movie or Predator or a Die Hard flick.

FINAL GRADE: B+

Chuck Norris in Invasion U.S.A. with twin Micro Uzi pistols hanging from a custom shoulder rig and LAW rocket launcher.
Chuck Norris in Invasion U.S.A. with twin Micro Uzi pistols hanging from a custom shoulder rig and LAW rocket launcher. YouTube

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