Future Kracauers investigating the cultural conditions that laid the groundwork for Trumpism will find their Caligari in the Cannon-produced action films of the 80s, of which Invasion U.S.A. is most exemplary. Its opening scene is fully loaded: a boat of weary Cuban refugees approaches the shore of Florida, where it is greeted by a U.S. coast guard vessel. "Bienvenidos a Estados Unidos!" announces a uniformed officer, grabbing the hand of an elderly man — before firing upon him at point blank range, signalling the others to unload mounted weapons into the literally huddled mass of men, women, elderly, and children.
Is this anticipatory of ICE-era immigration policy? Alas, Uncle Sam is off the hook – it turns out the welcoming party is in fact a costumed band of Latin American communist guerillas led by a Soviet operative. They've seized the boat because they know the humans who aspire to a better life are in fact a cover for the real cargo: pounds upon pounds of cocaine, which can be exchanged for weapons. (This twist feels like a pointed tsk directed toward the innocents who have just been murdered, for their plight, however sympathetic, has allowed them to serve as unwitting drug mules.) These weapons, and many others, will fire incessantly over the next 100 minutes as the guerillas incite Miami race riots, massacre packed Christmastime shopping centers, and plant bombs on school buses. All that stands between the United States of America and the brink are plucked-from-retirement ex-CIA agent Chuck Norris and his portable anti-tank missile launcher.
Why are these movies so appealing? For some, the misanthropic alternate cartoon reality of 80s action films are gleefully laudable as the ultimate self-own – a blunt instrument unknowingly aimed at exposing the jingoistic hysteria that many people on the right mistake for patriotism. They act as an indictment of the dizzying levels of fear and paranoia, on the order of Dr. Strangelove's General Jack D. Ripper, that grip the diseased and simple minds of the powerful people and societies that create them. Invasion U.S.A. is feeble from conception: despite sharing the name of a Cold War-era propaganda film, the movie was purportedly inspired by Chuck Norris reading an article about terrorism in Reader's Digest and thinking, as he told an interviewer for the South Florida Sun Sentinel, "Boy, that's scary." That this tale of sound, fury, and dual-wielded Uzis signifies something of the mindset of the people in charge of running the United States government is indeed itself frightening. But gathering in solidarity to revel in its absurdity provides an uncanny sense of comfort.