Friday, March 10, 2017

Sequel in Name Only: Universal Soldier: The Return

Back again for the week.   Today's film gets many a sneer, scoffing and wondering how it ever got a direct to theater release.   With its previous incarnations became nothing more than straight-to-VHS in the day.  Two sequels that followed the release from disaster director Roland Emmerich (Joey, Ghost Chase, Moon 44, Stargate, Independence Day, Godzilla, The Patriot, The Day After Tommorow, 2012 and White House Down) in 1992 bringing not one but two action hero gurus together making for a violent and interesting premise.  And then...we have today's movie following in retcon glory with a disheveled, nipped and garbled concept.  This is Universal Soldier: The Return.

So I get no love scenes with this girl? Not sure I am staying.

From Second Unit Director and Stunt coordinator Mic Rodgers (Chasers, Maverick, Village of the Damned, Braveheart, Virtuosity, Twister, The Rock, Batman & Robin and Titanic) takes the director's reins with Emmerich's preceding works with the return of GR44 the dead man that was Private Luc Deveraux (Jean-Claude Van Damme of Bloodsport, Kickboxer, Double Impact, Universal Soldier, Hard Target, Timecop, Street Fighter, Double Team and The Expendables 2) continuing to work in the field with the next generation of Unisols.   Along his side Maggie (fitness expert/former Raider Cheerleader Kiana Tom of BodyShaping, X-treme Energy, Cyberbandits, The Drew Carey Show, Universal Soldier: The Return and Family Law) they rate and evaluate the Unisols' performance, durability and responses to command.

Damn, Lord Vader is shredded!


The cyborgs respond, anticipate and react to a direct link to a super computer AI known as SETH. With a chip interface directly linked to motor functions and hypothalamus allows for tactical analysis and adaptation...all except what the Pentagon will do.   Dr. Dylan Cotner's (character actor Xander Berkeley of Straight to Hell, Sid and Nancy, Tapeheads, The Fabulous Baker Boys, The Last of the Finest, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, Apollo 13, Heat, Shanghai Noon, 24 and Deepwater)life work to save American soldiers by implementing the Unisol cyborgs for major conflicts has been brought into question.   Three star General Radford (character actor, the late Daniel von Bargen of Basic Instinct, Robocop 3, Seinfeld, The Postman, Lord of Illusions, Broken Arrow, Shaft, Super Troopers and Malcolm in the Middle) tells Cotner and Deveraux to pull the plug on all the cyborgs and AI because Congress is not going to pay another dime on this program...that would save soldiers and preserve lives.  SETH gets wind of this and views all but the Unisols as allies.   Sensing a story our Veronica replacement/love interest Erin (Heidi Schanz of Se7en, Kiss the Girls, The Truman Show, Universal Soldier: The Return, When Billie Beat Bobby and Sol Goode) has snuck on the base to film the Unisols gunning down soldiers left and right.   Armed with SMGs and assault rifles, next gen body armor and a regeneration over small arms fire, Cotner and Deveraux have the codes to keep SETH from expanding beyond his own programming.

Van Damme is imagining all the ex-wives and the alimony payments.

Radford is trying to get additional support to handle the Unisols, Deveraux and Maggie volunteer to attack SETH on two fronts, SETH decides his programming, while impressive he needs a physical body to lead his men and transfers his consciousness into a super soldier tweaked with nanobots and steroids (Michael Jai White of Ballistic, 2 Days in the Valley, Spawn, Exit Wounds, The Dark Knight, Black Dynamite, Blood and Bone, Why Did I Get Married and Mortal Kombat: Rebirth) to be the ultimate warrior.  Can Deveraux stop SETH in time??  How much collateral damage is on the way??

Retconning away II and III which had a decent story line on how Deveraux and Veronica Roberts try to bring his cybernetic story to the press...and that story line went belly up so we are here.  With no ability to get back actress Ally Walker or Chandra West from the Straight-to-VHS sequels, our brilliant scribes decide to kill Veronica off but they had a child together.  Dead man revived enough to produce viable sperm???  Yup one of those you smile, nod and move on.   The role of Romero was originally slated for WWE Stone Cold Steve Austin but went to WCW/WWE Bill Goldberg instead. Megadeth's "Crush 'Em" which was Bill Goldberg's entrance theme in the day got added to the soundtrack along with Static-X's "Bled for Days" and Dope's Die Motherf**ker Die. The strip club used for the jiggly girl/bar fight scene is The Clubhouse in Dallas, owned by Vinnie Abbott and the late Dimebag Darrell of Pantera.

So what did I think of the film?  The hand-to-hand was fair, the gunfights were decent and the levels of explosions are what you expect from an action film. The plot was weak, the shoehorned romance angle was less than believable because Van Damme and Schanz had absolutely no chemistry together and it feels like it was edited and re-edited too much to meet the run-time allotted.   The bright side? Loved Goldberg's screen presence, attitude and overall awesome wrestling moves added to the scenes.  Michael Jae White's imposing voice, build and delivery of his character gives him excellent villain standing and I feel Van Damme came up short as the hero this time. White's basso voice and standing gives great mood to a story that was really lacking and shows he has acting chops.  With 40 million for production in 1999, this grossed domestically 10 with another grand total of 19 million with the better response in the rental and purchase area.

This felt more like a twelve year old taking your favorite action figures, crafting a story that has no depth or length and playing with them all wrong.  A testosterone driven flick is fine, guys but have a fricking plot to match the action scenes.  The female characters could have been replaced with cardboard stand-ins because there was no meat and potatoes to the roles.   Loosely translated, "Does she look hot? Can she hold a weapon? Okay, sold."   All in all, a solid action morsel but ill-conceived dialogue, decrepit conclusions and an unsubstantial third act.  No I have not really looked over the retcon over this retcon the 2008 Universal Soldier: Regeneration nor have I even glanced at the 2012 Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning.  It apparently has clone armies and well Lucas cured me of wanting to watch anything of that standing.

Should have gone for the X-3 Juggernaut deal.