Theme Song: I was certain we’d get a motivational theme song at the end, but alas, nothing. Not even during the training montage where Chuck Norris’s son does a bunch of push-ups and karate kicks.
Interesting Dated References: People caring about Russia; People doing labor in prison; People wanting to visit Russia, “just for fun”.
Best Line: Anything Mike Norris says when he is trying to act out the emotion of pain and/or fatigue but can only muster this weird squeaky voice that most men reserve for when they stub the shit out of their toe.
Social Context: In the 80s there were many American-made Russian scare films, with Red Dawn being the standard-bearer. This is not Red Dawn, though. This is a miserable mix of Red Dawn, The Deer Hunter and maybe Papillion, all through a miserable mid-80s teenage filter. And when I say it’s a mix of those movies, I mean that in the most tangential way. Vague elements of those plots are appropriated into Born American with poor results.
Summary: Born American opens like so many movies you may watch, which is with a girl getting raped and/or murdered. This scene is intercut with a factoid about Russia having a very long border that in some places is heavily fortified, but in others is nothing more than a barbed wire fence. Enter our college dudes on a quick little Eastern European vacation. There’s the stereotypical 80s college nerd, KC, and then two normal dudes who can be differentiated by their hair color: brown and blonde.
The brown-haired guy is Mitch and he is pretty bland. The blonde guy on the other hand, has a whole slew of problems.
Blonde guy is played by Mike Norris (son of Chuck Norris), but that’s not the major issue. The main problem seems to be that his character’s name is Savoy Brown. Now granted the band Savoy Brown never achieved household stardom, but I still think they were well known enough that someone involved with the making of this movie would have said something. Regardless, it’s super distracting.
So our three dudes are half drunk and wandering around Finland late at night when they decide it would be fun to cross the small border gate into Russia. This quick jaunt turns into a plot device as the dudes find themselves lost and stuck in some shitty-ass farming village.
Rather than quietly trying to explain the situation, Savoy Brown, KC (possibly with The Sunshine Band), and Mitch wind up in some massive firefight with police and military. Despite the fact dozens are killed, some peasant girl helps them cross the border.
Oh, but that doesn’t work and they are caught. The police seem to think the spoiled rich kids on vacation are some type of spies and proceed to do some pretty intense nipple torture on Mitch.
The nipple torture goes on and on and it’s way more intense than any nipple torture tape you found in your dad’s/step-dad’s collection. So intense, in fact, Savoy Brown Norris flies into a jealous rage about Mitch’s nipples and is coerced into confessing to being a spy.
Savoy Brown and KC are sentenced to a prison work camp. While there, some guy with my hairline in less than 6 months tells them that since Mitch was so resistant to nipple torture, he wound up in a type of human gladiator ring/chess game/fight club.
To pass time in prison, Savoy Brown visits this weird area where men look through old vents into the female prisoner delousing area. Pornographic material featuring delousing is one genre that you probably never found in your dad’s/step-dad’s collection. If you did please feel free to tell us about it in the comments section.
Mike Norris is trying really, really hard to be a great actor. It’s so disconcerting. When the friends were being funny and cavalier he was doing fine, but the second they wound up in prison his voice turned into a screechy whine. Coupled with that are some severe examples of over-fucking-acting.
It’s pretty absurd, especially this scene where he finds KC dead, but first asks him why he doesn’t have a shirt on in a childish voice. Norris’ mainstream acting career didn’t garner much acclaim, but he has had much success with a series of Christian films. It’s possible he learned to dial it back a bit later in his career, or that Christian audiences have a higher tolerance for extreme melodramatic postulating.
So KC dies and Savoy meets a black guy named The Admiral (blaxploitation mainstay Thalmus Rasulala in a good role) who helps him rescue Mitch. At the same time, Savoy Brown beds some louse-ridden, female prisoner. During the escape Mitch dies and Savoy and the girl walk across the border together to freedom.
Born American is mainly notable as being an early film from Finnish director Renny Harlin. Another thing worth noting is it is rumored Chuck Norris was originally cast as Savoy Brown, although I’m not sure how they would group him in with a bunch of college kids on vacation.
Poster and Box Art: Born American had a huge direct-video release that spanned many video stores across many countries. The US cover is pretty average, but I think this Turkish cover is the best.
Look at that shit! Compare that to the American version and tell me which is better!? I also found Finnish. German, and French versions, but they weren’t even worth talking about compared to the nipple torture showcase that is the Turkish version.
Availability: You can watch Mike Norris on DVD for a mere $8 (US) via Amazon.