Chuck Norris’ implausibly huge Hollywood stardom. Looking back, it’s hard to know which of these two factors marked a more terrifying sign that we were facing the end of the world.
So, in a Cold War-era action movie, what could be better than a scenario where the Soviets are hell-bent on the imminent destruction of America and the only person who can prevent Armageddon is – Chuck Norris! Writes itself, really.
Our Chuck plays Matt Hunter, a retired CIA agent who’s traded ‘wet work’, ‘dead drops’ and covert surveillance to become an alligator farmer. Apparently, the skills are very transferable.
Seemingly content with his business supplying gator skin to the handbag industry, Chuck’s tempted back into the CIA fold when he learns that his nemesis – a Soviet agent named Rostov (Richard Lynch) – is plotting to destroy America.
Rostov’s dastardly plan involves tricking the USA into destroying itself. Flooding the country with hundreds of saboteurs, Rostov organises a co-ordinated wave of seemingly motiveless terrorist acts. With the authorities unable to stop the carnage, the country begins to disintegrate as the good citizens of ‘Uncle Sam’ turn against each other.
With chaos on the streets, it’s up to Norris to stop Rostov before America collapses altogether under the weight of its own rotten, decadent, bourgeois, capitalism.
Still, it does allow us to spend plenty of time in the company of Chuck. He’s in fine form here, resplendent in full beard and rocking a bold ‘double denim’ outfit. Tricky to pull off at the best of times, here it makes the Chuck-ster look like a kung-fu Shakin’ Stevens.
It’s also a joy simply to look at Norris, quite the oddest looking man in Hollywood. He looks like what might have happened if a lion forcibly had sex with a squat female bodybuilder. It’s a crying shame he was never cast in the film he was made for: The Island of Dr Moreau. They’d have saved a fortune on make-up.
Never the most naturalistic actor, Chuck compensates by giving a pared down performance, much like Charles Bronson in his better work. As a result, he’s surprisingly effective – although there are some clunky moments where his utter lack of empathy with his dialogue jars the ears. (The average Spanish tourist, enquiring about the nearest facilities with the aid of a phrase book, would possibly convey more emotion than the monosyllabic Norris.)
However, given that Chuck does indeed single-handedly stop a Soviet invasion of the USA, surely this film cannot fail to be anything other than a slam dunk classic? How can a film where Chuck Norris spectacularly shoots up a shopping mall and dramatically saves a school bus of kids be bad? Especially when the climax involves Norris and Rostov going head-to-head armed with only a couple of rocket launchers.
Joseph Zito, badness is entirely possible.
Each breathless action set-piece is punctuated by long, arse-numbing, brain-melting periods of complete tedium where nothing, absolutely nothing, happens. It’s the sort of film Samuel Beckett would have walked out of on the grounds it ‘was dragging on a bit.’
The opening to the film is particularly execrable. Zito spends an ungodly 40 minutes setting up the plot, when it could easily have been done in ten. Enraged by the slack editing, I started to fantasise about doing my own cut of the film, then slamming it down in front of the man and declaring, “This is how you direct a Chuck Norris film!... Oh, and by the way, I‘ve taken most of the bits with Chuck Norris out.”
Having failed to stake out his directing credentials, I had grave concerns about how Zito would handle the film’s key scene – the helicopter explosion. Surprisingly, he makes a decent fist of it.
Towards the climax of the film, Norris comes across the villain’s getaway chopper parked on the roof of a building. On spotting Norris, the pilot desperately flips switches on the dashboard to start up the rotors. Unfortunately for the doomed pilot, the only thing slower than the opening to a Joseph Zito film, is starting up the engine to a helicopter.
Chuckie therefore has ample to time to put the rocket launcher he’s been handily lugging around with him to good use. Hoisting it to his shoulder, he aims and fires, blowing the helicopter to pieces.
Screen-filling fireball, good, flaming post-explosion wreckage: Zito ticks a lot of boxes, but the whole thing is lacking in inspiration. Still, while it’s hard to get excited about a scene where Norris destroys an unarmed, stationary, helicopter from point blank range, I must confess, I did enjoy the cold-blooded overkill with which Norris despatches the chopper.
Exploding helicopter innovation
Rocket launcher chopper fireball – we’ve seen it before. However, it does remind us of the limitations of helicopters as escape vehicles.
Pilots really should take a tip from getaway drivers, and always leave the engine running.
In a juicy sub-plot, Rostov is obsessed by Chuck Norris and tries to kill our bearded friend to settle an old score. Even though he’s planning the downfall of America, he just can‘t bear the thought that Chuck Norris is out there somewhere still alive. I kind of know how he feels.
While the final, rocket-launchers-at-40-paces showdown between Norris and Richard Lynch is undeniably a great moment of over-the-top action cinema, the choice of location leaves a lot to be desired.
The climatic shoot-out takes place in a sterile, neon lit office block, and the aforementioned rocket launcher battle is staged in a bland, grey, anonymous corridor.
I guess it was a way of reminding us of the freedoms and liberties that Chuck was fighting for – the inalienable, God given right of every US citizen to do a boring, socially meaningless job for low pay. You almost start wishing the Russkies had won.
Chuck intones the immortal: “I’m going to hit you with so many rights you’ll be begging for a left.”
Sadly, we were denied one of the most bizarre screen pairings of all time in this film. Apparently, Chuck Norris wanted Whoopi Goldberg to play the main female lead. However, the director had other ideas and cast Melissa Prophet instead.
Norris and Goldberg, though. In the same film. The mind boggles.
Review by: Jafo
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