Blu-ray Review: Chuck Norris in Invasion U.S.A. and Braddock: Missing In Action III

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The glory days of '80s schlock live on in Shout! Factory's re-issuance of two Chuck Norris classics (one a little more classic than the other, truth be told) on Blu-ray: Invasion U.S.A. (1985) and Braddock: Missing In Action III (1988). Norris maniacs will surely want to grab them both, though Invasion is not only the more entertaining flick, it's also tricked out with a bevy of brand new bonus features. Poor Braddock was apparently deemed also-ran status, but at least both films look good in high definition, while still retaining their inherent '80s-era grain. There is some inconsistencies in grain level and sharpness, but that's a product of the original production. Sourced from clean material (especially in Invasion's case), these '80s time capsule pieces have never looked better. Invasion even boasts a rocking DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack.

Both films emerged from the infamous Cannon Group, produced by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, however from very different eras in that production company's history. Invasion didn't make a ton of money theatrically, but it was released during the heyday of Cannon's string of popular, hyper-violent, exploitative action flicks. It could be, in fact, the ultimate Chuck Norris film—long before his embarrassing decline into kiddie flicks like Sidekicks and Top Dog, then into bad TV movies and eventual semi-retirement. Make no mistake, it's "what if" premise is handled with the barest level of competency, but it's sure to put a smile on the face of anyone old enough to remember the era.

INvasion USA BD flat (175x220).jpgPlaying on the tail end of Cold War fears of communist invasion, Invasion may have been trying to make some salient points back '85. It's unapologetic jingoism was viewed with much less cynical eyes in those days (at least by the average moviegoer). Norris' prototypical one-man-army and retired CIA agent Matt Hunter takes on guerrilla commie terrorists who, as the title makes plain, invade the U.S. mainland. Norris is as wooden as ever (and surprisingly limited, screen time-wise), though he delivers as much ass-kicking stoicism as the screenplay (which he contributed to) requires. Brother Joseph Zito directs with enough gonzo zeal to make Invasion U.S.A. a worthy nostalgia piece. All-purpose TV and B-movie villain Richard Lynch plays Soviet terror honcho Mikhail Rostov.

If you're already a fan, but need convincing on whether to pull the trigger on Shout!'s BD, there's plenty of bonus bait. Director Zito delivers an audio commentary, "Loose Cannons" is a half-hour piece focused on Invasion screenwriter James Bruner and his days at Cannon, and "Cannon Carnage - The Makeup Effects of Invasion U.S.A" is an 18-minute piece (title is self-explanatory) featuring interviews with Tom Savini and other effects techs who worked on the film.

Braddock BD flat (175x220).jpgBraddock: Missing In Action III concluded not only Norris' Vietnam-based Missing In Action series, it was a flop that helped mark the end of the Cannon era. While the 1984 original was a significant low-budget hit (as was its prequel follow-up, to a much lesser degree), third time wasn't the charm for Norris' Colonel James Braddock. Screenwriter James Bruner is back, with Norris again receiving co-writing credit, but its Chuck's brother Aaron Norris in the director's chair. Braddock heads back into Vietnam, more than a decade after the war ended, to rescue his long-presumed-dead wife Lin (Miki Kim) and a son, Van (the late Roland Harrah III). It's a bit draggy throughout the first half; the Norris brothers definitely saving the action for the explosive third act.

Let's face it, the Missing In Action series (however sincere in tone) has always be a sub-First Blood alternative, with Norris' James Braddock a poor man's riff on Sylvester Stallone's John Rambo. In fact, Braddock: Missing In Action III hit theaters a few months in advance of the similarly rescue-themed Rambo III. Both films were effectively the final nails in their respective franchises (until Stallone resurrected his a couple decades later), suggesting a turning point in pop culture and moviegoers' appetite for the one-man-army style of action epic (be it high or low budget). Again, as with Invasion U.S.A., Braddock is primarily for those nostalgic for the '80s.

Unlike the full surround mix found on Invasion, Shout! Factory has opted for a more straightforward DTS-HD MA 2.0 lossless track for Braddock. Weirdly enough, there are absolutely no special features. Too bad screenwriter James Bruner didn't sit for a discussion, but maybe the film's death-knell flop status makes its participants less enthused to reminisce.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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