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video review out of 4 Movie Review: Soldier

Starring: Kurt Russell, Jason Scott Lee
Director: paul anderson
Rated: R
RunTime: 98 Minutes
Release Date: October 1998
Genres: Action, Sci-Fi/Fantasy

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

"Soldier" is yet another video game for the big screen which has momentum and a terrific set going for it. Otherwise it is as formulaic as the genre comes, though the ultimate battle is not between good and evil but between two men who are merely following orders as per their lifelong training. One of the fighters has the moral advantage which insures the support and cheers of the audience, however. He has evolved beyond the role of robosoldier into the beginnings of a human being after his contact with a pacifist community on a distant planet.

The principal action of Paul Anderson's film takes place in the middle of the next century, with a military operation that will determine the future of a nice little community that has built a utopia amid the detritus of a common garbage dump. But the story begins from the birth of one particular soldier, Todd (Kurt Russell), who attends a military school that makes West Point look like an institution run by the Green party. Instruction at this academy includes having the elementary school boys watch three Doberman Pinchers tear apart a wild boar, and pits the lads against one another, giving each gold stars, apparently, for the number of successful, bare-fisted punches he lands on his opponent. Needless to say only a small group survive, but even that elite company are put to a severe test when a Robosoldier par excellence, Caine 607 (Jason Scott Lee), and a merry band of fighters virtually annihilate the combatants, making them as obsolete as a B-1 bomber. Todd is left for dead and dumped on a distant planet which, for some reason is invaded by the new breed of fighters with orders to kill every pacifist on the planet.

For all its intergalactic, sci-fi histrionics, "Soldier" is really a small-scale venture: in fact, the final battle is really between just one man, Todd, and a small band of invaders. Russell, a fine actor who electrified the movie public with a three- dimensional role in the under-appreciated "Breakdown," gets to say very little, but expresses whatever minimal feelings he has with his eyes.

A new study shows that kids really cannot blame their parents for the way they turn out: at least 50% of their character is formed by their contact with peers--most of the rest being by genetic makeup. Jerry Weintraub, who produced the film, is eager to show that with the proper nurturing, even a thirty-something soldier whose only connection with peers has been brutally aggressive can be made into a feeling human being once more. The role of sustainer and nurturer falls to the lovely Sandra (Connie Nielsen), who has a son unable to talk since he was bitten by a snake. Russell is successful in showing how he and the community change one another. As he becomes more human, more loving, the community realizes the need for fighting men. After all you can't defend your land with flowers. There's plenty of firepower here, some brutally violent combat between Russell and Jason Scott Lee, and an overly sentimental scene to conclude the work that gets some in the audience laughing at its stickiness.

If Russell does not get much chance to act, he does succeed in showing off some powerful biceps and his courage and ability to do some of his own stunts. This is a movie about a shellshocked military man, though it's hardly in a class with "Regeneration," a recent, sensitive, British offering about a group of World War I soldiers who are institutionalized after having broken down psychologically in the heat of battle. Nor can "Soldier" be regarded as much of anti-war treatise; in fact, in pointing out the naivete of the utopian gardeners and dancers, it is a call for more balance between Mars and Muse. Todd is, after all, ostracized by and exiled from the community because they fear his militarism but is called back when they realize that the pen is not quite mightier than the sword. Ultimately, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, a video game is a video game is a video game.

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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