Monday, January 4, 2010



Back in 1992 the lackluster UNIVERSAL SOLDIER dropped. It was in no need of a sequel then, and it still isn’t. However, there have been several lame-duck sequels including a few for TV. The only thing a few people might appreciate about the new UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: REGENERATION (US: R) is its nostalgic Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren team-up.

The original UNIVERSAL SOLDIER is about a secret US government project that re-animates dead Vietnam soldiers and makes them into borderline indestructible killing machines. But some of their life memories are preserved in the re-animation process, and the internal struggle is supposedly enough to hold a plot together. Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren, two soldiers named GR44 and GR13, eventually work out their zombie differences in that film.

There have been several attempts to reboot this franchise. Van Damme even starred in 1999’s UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: THE RETURN co-starring BLACK DYNAMITE. But the Lundgren/Van Damme re-team-up is something that has taken eighteen years to pull off. You would think that such a collaboration between has-beens would have hit the hype levels that Stallone’s upcoming EXPENDABLES film featuring a bunch of has-beens is hitting. But US: R has gotten little fanfare and is more of an internet joke than something that causes die-hard fanboys to click reload at their favorite movie website. The film has its moments though, and when those moments wash across the screen with bullets, arterial spray and multiple punches to the head, they really work.

US: R starts with the over-the-top kidnapping of Russian Prime Minister Musayev’s two teenage kids at a museum. The armored truck chase and the bullet-riddled bodies that are piled up in this opening sequence are riveting. Unfortunately, such a pace is never achieved again in the film. Next comes a video-taped ransom message from a mysterious Commander Topoff (Zachary Baharov) that reveals the strapping of some serious explosives to the remains of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor for the “liberation of Pasalan” and the release of 227 political prisoners.

Topoff maintains control of Chernobyl with his military unit and NGU, also known as “the freak,” played by pro-UFC fighter Andrei “The Pitbull” Arlovski. NGU is a Universal Soldier (UniSol) with little more to say than “yes,” and “no.” Mainly he pummels his way through his opposition. The moves that Arlovski uses are straight out of his UFC days except for a forearm switchblade which he uses to slash and gut his enemies.

NGU is maintained by a wimpy turncoat American named Dr. Colin (Kerry Shale). Dr. Colin’s side-project has to do with regenerating the original UniSol, Andrew Scott (Dolph Lundgren), as his personal servant. NGU is the main villain, but the draw here is for Van Damme vs. Lundgren.

The US sends in four of its own recently hatched Universal Soldiers to handle “the freak,” and they proceed to get killed with all sorts of UFC brutality. There is only one UniSol left to send into this Chernobyl terrorist mess, and that is the other original UniSol, Luc Deveraux (Jean_Claude Van Damme). However, Deveraux has been in some intensive psycho-therapy of late and is trying but failing to make a go at being normal. Deveraux is soon re-fitted, and with about ten needle shots to various parts of his neck, he is kicking down the door and heading into battle.

This film is low-budget and serves up the action that should be expected in any film with a title as ridiculous as UNIVERSAL SOLDIER. Bullets rip through human flesh, knives bleed people out, and skulls are clanged with pipes. Belonephobes beware; there is a serious needle injection to the neck every five to seven minutes in this film. The terrorist plot at the beginning is merely a throwaway backdrop to prop up a serious beat-‘em-up film. Van Damme can still kick just as high as he did back in CYBORG, and he is still fun to watch. Lundgren is just as big as he was when he was in ROCKY IV and can actually speak clearer English than he could when he was THE PUNISHER. But unfortunately there is nothing special or even original in this film.

The violence numerator far outweighs the plot denominator, and the disjointed ending smacks of RESIDENT EVIL: EXTINCTION. When Dolph Lundgren’s Andrew Scott malfunctions, the sloppy homage to BLADE RUNNER is unforgiveable. BLADE RUNNER isn’t the only film lightly snag-hooked to pull this plot together. The notion of being programmed to kill and then having all of your mental wiring get loopy is straight out of THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE and more recently, THE BOURNE IDENTITY

US: R is filler at best. The film completely lacks in substance and truly anything to really talk about. The fight sequences, while brutal and amusing to watch, don’t break any new action ground. US: R is a great DVD rental if you are looking to put your brain on hold for an hour and a half.

The inevitable Van Damme and Lundgren showdown is well-choreographed and vicious. These guys are older and tired looking, but they do indeed put in their work. Van Damme looks particularly rough. Seriously, he looks like he has just come off a two week straight alcohol bender.

US: R is a straight to DVD film that simply doesn’t have the legs to pack out multiplexes. While a slight step above the pedestrian action film, US: R is just the kind of movie a nostalgic fan would expect to find Dolph Lundgren and Jean-Claude Van Damme in today . . . or in 1992 for that matter.