5/29/10

A Tale of Two Matt Hunters: Norris vs. Dudikoff

I could not resist getting into The Chuck Norris Blogothon hosted by Matt-Suzaka over at Chuck Norris Ate My Baby, and I wanted to talk about one of my favorite films of his, 1985’s Invasion U.S.A. It’s a film full of classic Norris badassary, and it was something of a childhood favorite of mine. However, recently I was at a jockey lot (a.k.a a flea market to those not from the South) and I picked up several videos including Avenging Force starring Mr. American Ninja Michael Dudikoff. Imagine my surprise when I was checking out the tapes and ran across the familiar name Matt Hunter. After a little investigation, I found out that Avenging Force was a sequel to Invasion U.S.A albeit with little connection other than the name of the hero.

It seems that Avenging Force was intended for Norris, but he was committed to shooting another film at the time, a little movie called Delta Force. So Cannon Entertainment, not wanting to waste a finished script, recast the bearded, chambray shirt wearing, double Uzi wielding character that Norris had  first played with the clean shaven, cowboy hat wearing, martial artist played by Dudikoff. Needless to say, it makes for two very different films and two very different Matt Hunters. I thought what better time to look at both films, and it would give me a chance to pit two ‘80’s action stars in a fight for supremacy. Sure, one of the stars is Chuck Norris, the star of such films as The Octagon and Firewalker, the man who made Texas Rangers look cool, and a man who has nothing behind his beard but another fist, while the other is Michael Dudikoff, but the two films almost make this a fair fight.

It had been a number if years since I had last watched Invasion U.S.A, and while I really remembered liking it, I was pretty hazy on the details. For some reason, probably because the main baddie named Mikhail Rostov (played by the always entertaining Richard Lynch), for years I’ve had it in my mind that the Russians were invading the U.S., but watching this time I found it was Commies although of the South American variety. What the terrorist’s motive is and how they managed to get together such a massive army seems like an impenetrable mystery to me. For those not familiar with the film, the Commie terrorists start blowing up homes and community centers to start civil unrest, but as an added bonus Rostov is dead set on killing his old arch nemesis, ex-CIA agent Matt Hunter (Chuck Norris). After the goons blow up his home in the Florida everglades, kill his air boating friend, and endanger his pet armadillo, Hunter comes out of retirement. It doesn’t take long before Hunter is going though more Uzi ammo than the entirety of the Six Day War.

There’s really not that much plot to Invasion U.S.A. The motivations of the bad guys are never clear, and Norris’ Hunter just seems to be hell bent on laying waste to as many Commie terrorists as he can lay his hands (or guns) on. That doesn’t really matter though. Once the movie starts kicking, it becomes one excellent action set piece after another. Chuck kills Commies in the mall. Chuck kills Commies outside a supermarket. Chuck had a knock down drag out fight with the Commies in Atlanta complete with tanks, rocket launchers, and of course a final showdown against Lynch’s evil leader. Needless to say, Invasion U.S.A makes up for the lack of plot with the variety of action set pieces. Plus the film contains some great lines. My favorite Norris quote has to be when he’s trying to intimidate some random dude and warns him that, “I’ll give you so many rights you’ll be hoping for a left.” Norris is at his badass best, and Richard Lynch makes for a great bad guy as usual. As a kid, I’m sure I loved the film for its endless action while not I might enjoy some of Norris’ other films a little more as an adult.

Since I just purchased it a few weeks back, this was my first time checking out Avenging Force, and I really didn’t know what to expect. The only Dudikoff film I had seen previously is American Ninja, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that Avenging Force not only starred the Dudikoff but also his Ninja co-star Steve James. In both films they share a natural chemistry that really helps sell the film. I also noticed one other name that piqued my interest, Marc Alaimo. His name might not ring a bell to most folks, but being the massive nerd that I am, I instantly recognized the actor as the evil Gul Ducat from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. With those actors on board and director Sam Firstenberg who helmed Breakin2 and American Ninja, I was optimistic for Avenging Force. However, I was hard pressed to see how Dudikoff was going to fill the shoes of Chuck Norris in the role of Matt Hunter.

The story of this Matt Hunter begins when Matt, his Grandpa, and little sister go into town to meet their friend Larry Richards (Steve James) who is running for state senate. They accompany him in a Mardi Gras parade that is attacked by several gunmen out for Larry’s blood, but the only target they hit is Larry’s young son. Matt taps back into his Secret Service contacts (no CIA for this ex-agent only an elite FBI task force) and finds out about a secretive group called Pentangle that has been threatening Larry. Matt and Larry tangle with Pentangle a few times before the dastardly group tracks them down at Matt’s ranch house. They kill Grandpa and Larry as well as kidnap Matt’s little sister. It seems they want Matt to participate in their blood sport in the bayou. If he survives, he can have his sister back, but no one survives.

Apart from the subplot about the Senator, Avenging Force reminded me a lot of John Woo’s Hard Target which wouldn’t come out for five more years. Woo’s film is of course more visually impressive, but I did enjoy Dudikoff as the heroic lead. The fact that he was supposed to be Matt Hunter is another matter altogether. If Avenging Force was supposed to be a sequel to Invasion U.S.A, it sure didn’t seem like it. The powers behind the film had changed the lead actor, his former profession, and even his digs, but for some reason they didn’t find it necessary to change the name of the main character. The film also suffers because even though it has some good action sequences, many of them are laughable. The Pentangle goons chase Matt through the swamp in some hilarious outfits, and it lead to me dubbing them the "mime ninja", "survivalist Sub-Zero", "Professor Mardi Gras", and "the Gimp". While the fight scenes were good, it kind of broke the tension of the moment.

When it comes down to it, the main thing that Avenging Force lacks is an engaging plot. The writers tried to spice it up by putting together the back-story about the assassination  of the Senatorial candidate, but when you boil the movie down to its essence, it is nothing more than another version of The Most Dangerous Game, and the aforementioned Hard Target follows the same formula with better action sequences. I’ve seen many folks call this movie the best that Michael Dudikoff ever made, but I’m not so sure about that. American Ninja was a better film, and even some of the sequels come off better than this. The only reason that Avenging Force stands out is the teaming of Dudikoff and James, but sadly, the duo get split up about halfway though the film and their chemistry that had carried so much of the film was sorely missed. There’s also the matter of the little sister played by Allison Gereighty. She was incredibly irritating though thankfully she was in few scenes. Her voice and bad Southern accent just grated on my last nerve every time she showed up.

So as far as the battle of the Matt Hunters goes, there’s really no contest. After all, the host of this blog-o-thon isn’t a site called Michael Dudikoff Ate My Homework. While Avenging Force has some good moments to it, it just can’t stack up to Chuck being badass and wielding paired Uzi’s in Invasion U.S.A. I want to thank Matt-Suzaka for putting on this Blog-o-thon and all the folks out there who have participated. I’ve really been enjoying reading all your posts on various facets of the bearded one’s life and career. As a final note, I want to leave you with my favorite of the Chuck Norris facts. I know these are played out by now (and as someone who played World of Warcraft when it was at the height of popularity I’ve heard them all), but I do love this one for its simplicity. Chuck Norris doesn’t sleep. He waits.

Bugg Rating (Invasion U.S.A)

Bugg Rating (Avenging Force)

2 comments:

  1. Another awesome post. Matt's going to have a hard time picking a winner.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I want to thank YOU for putting out a double dope review and for sharing some interesting tough guy film facts. I've never seen Avenging Force, and even though your review is not the best for it, I would still like to check it out at some point.

    I love me some DoodooCough, but in the world of tough guys, he certainly doesn't stack up to someone like Norris. Maybe Jeff Speakman, but not Norris! Thanks for the great review, Bugg and thanks for participating too!

    ReplyDelete

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