1985 was a wild year for Cannon Films.  For a short while, they stood atop the heap of indie production outfits and spent their capital as quickly as they raised it on a wildly diverse slate of films that included future genre cult faves like Lifeforce and Death Wish 3 alongside tonier fare like Runaway Train and Fool For Love.  One of their biggest releases that year was the Chuck Norris vehicle Invasion U.S.A. and it remains a high-water mark of just how outrageous Cannon’s genre fare got during their time at the top.

Norris plays ex-C.I.A. spook Matt Hunter, who is now living a quiet existence in the Everglades.  Unfortunately, his enemy General Mikhail Rostov (Richard Lynch) has put together an army and an arsenal to invade the U.S., sow discord and blow up as much stuff as possible. When Rostov shoots a rocket into Hunter’s swamp home, Hunter sets out to dismantle his operation in “one man army” fashion.  Cue a series of ever more explosive and baroque action sequences.

Invasion U.S.A. has essentially the same root premise as Red Dawn – a mixture of Russian and Cuban forces launch a stealth attack on the United States – but Invasion U.S.A. makes Red Dawn look a model of sober restraint and subtlety in comparison.  For example, Rostov is introduced as he leads his men in shooting up a boatful of unarmed Cuban refugees headed for the U.S.  Rostov’s also the kind of guy who will murder enemies by shoving a gun down the front of their pants and then pulling the trigger.  Several times.

If you try to approach Invasion U.S.A. in conventional critical terms, you’ll be tearing your hair out before the first act is over.  The plan of the Russians is never really explained and what we do see makes little to no sense.  Until the finale, the cops and the military just show up on the scene periodically with furrowed brows after the action happens.  A flashback shows Hunter could’ve killed Rostov long ago, which begs the question why he didn’t.

There’s also an intensely annoying reporter character played by Melissa Prophet who never seems to file a report and doesn’t get involved with the main plot at all, other than to occasionally curse at authority figures while randomly snapping photos.  She neither becomes a love interest nor an ally to the hero. Action films from this era are full of expendable female characters but this one is the most mystifying of them all.

That said, conventional criticism doesn’t apply to Invasion U.S.A.  It is best experienced as a machismo-drenched fever dream shot through with jingoism and explosions.  It never lingers long enough to allow you to ponder its absurdity: instead, it just rockets from one bloodbath to the next.  The only constants are the yin-yang pairing of Norris’ stone-faced grimness and the wild emoting of Lynch, who deserves the respect of b-movie fans for delivering line readings as bombastic as the film’s firepower.

Director Joseph Zito is one of the more underappreciated b-movie directors from the ’80s and he really show off his chops here, keeping the wisp of a plot afloat with a series of stylishly lensed and eye-poppingly choreographed action scenes.  Highlights include the commies laying waste to a street of suburban homes with rocket launchers, the demolition of Hunter’s swamp house and a finale that involves Hunter and Rostov knocking door-sized holes through walls with explosives, guns and each other.

The best of the action scenes is a skirmish between Hunter and the commies in a busy mall, which involves laying waste to several stores in the style of The Blues Brothers before leading to a wild car chase that includes a female stuntperson being put in extreme risk between moving vehicles as Hunter tries to rescue her.  It’s as ’80s as an action scene can get, full of wanton destruction done live in front of the camera without any CGI trickery.

This moment sums up the Invasion U.S.A.‘s delirious nature – not to mention the trashy delirium of Cannon Films in their mid-’80s peak – in just a few minutes of screen time.  It’s the best of many reasons for exploitation film cultists to experience this wild-eyed schlock classic.