This movie can be summed up in one word. WHY? What could have possibly given the filmmakers the slightest notion that they should proceed with the project? Why did they not realize that this was the worst idea since okra flavored Powerbars? For crying out loud, didn’t they see the first one? The function of a sequel is to undermine a decent film by slapping its name on a crappy movie just to make a few quick bucks. But that was what the first Universal Soldier was about (except the “undermining of a decent film” part). Universal Soldier: The Return is like asking a hoodlum to shoot you in the crotch after he has already mugged and beaten you.
All of that aside it was an unwashed armpit of a movie. The film centers around a multi-million dollar AI computer named Seth that controls the universal soldiers. Thankfully, for all of its space age features (like being able to speak), it still thinks to itself in text that shows on a monitor slow enough for a five year old to read. It seems to be equipped with a plot subroutine that plays out on the monitor for those of us to stupid to figure out the glaringly clichéd plot complications. It takes a special kind of writer to come up with a computer like this. It takes a writer with enough technical knowledge to refer to a CPU as a “brain”.
The acting award goes to Heidi Schanz for playing Van Damme’s irate love interest. If ever there was a real candidate for Monty Python’s hospital for overacting, she is it. But what really made this movie the true Universal Soldier experience were the details.
The whole movie takes place in the Central Time zone. How do I know this, you ask? Every single time the time of day is typed out in “plot text” at the bottom of the screen, CST is specified. Mind you, no time is ever listed that is not CST. For example, they never have someone in Eastern Time zone coordinating with someone else in Central. Nevertheless, they still specify CST on everything. I was so disappointed. Here I was expecting intense time zone interaction and I was totally let down. Another amusing detail was the Universal Soldier’s preferred mode of transportation: Dodge Durangos. That’s right, who needs a hummer or an APC when you can have a Durango! The Oakley shades added a nice touch (of stupidity). Every soldier wore Oakley blades all the time. Why didn’t they have them wear Oakley T-shirts too? You might think this was supposed to be a film with highly trained military personnel everywhere. Apparently their training never included the simple rule: stop, drop and roll. Of the hundreds of soldiers immolated, not one did something other than flailing their arms and screaming until they collapsed. Why couldn’t they have done this to the writer and/or director as well? The last great detail was a pathetic attempt at paying homage to Star Trek by having a cracked secret code start with NCC1701. Why bother? Do you think Gene Roddenberry, if he were alive, would take that as a compliment?
The ending deserves special mention. For some reason it didn’t seem very creative to have Van Damme freeze one of his main opponents, then shatter him. I think I may have seen that in Terminator 2, then again in Demolition Man. Do I really need to see it again? When Van Damme finally faced the last opponent (Goldberg of WCW fame) we are subjected to yet another ridiculously long fight. Oh my, John Malkovich died faster in Con Air.
What, in summary, is the Universal Soldier experience? All I can say is it was as exciting and unpredictable as playing 500 games of tic-tac-toe back to back.
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