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Universal Soldier: The Return

video review out of 4 Movie Review: Universal Soldier: The Return

Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Daniel Von Bargen
Director: Mic Rodgers
Rated: R
RunTime: 82 Minutes
Release Date: August 1999
Genres: Action, Sci-Fi/Fantasy

*Also starring: Michael Jai White, Heidi Schanz, Xander Berkeley

Review by Greg King
1 star out of 4

Jean-Claude Van Damme reprises his character of Luc Devereaux, the regenerated soldier, for this risible second sequel to 1992's violent futuristic thriller Universal Soldier. Van Damme was absent from the dire 1998 sequel Universal Soldier II Brothers In Arms, in which his character was played by another performer. That film disappeared straight to video in this country. Van Damme's return doesn't necessarily herald an improvement in quality, but it does ensure that Universal Soldier: The Return gains a brief cinema release before disappearing into the same video wilderness that has claimed most of his recent lacklustre efforts.

With the end of the Cold War, the military is drastically reducing its budget. The first cutbacks affect the futuristic unisol project, in which dead soldiers are regenerated and turned into virtually indestructible cyborgs. But SETH, the super-intelligent computer responsible for much of the unisol project, rebels against the government's plans, and seizes control of the soldiers. SETH manages to assume human form (martial arts star Michael Jai White) and lead his invincible troops as they take over the top secret complex that houses the unisol project. As a stand-off develops between the regular army and the cyborgs it falls to Devereaux to try and stop SETH's plans.

Mic Rodgers, a former stunt co-ordinator who has worked on films including Titanic and Lethal Weapon 4, makes his directorial debut here. He handles the action and pyrotechnics effectively enough, but he lacks the flair and visual style of original creators Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin.

Universal Soldier The Return lacks the energy and spectacularly staged action sequences of the original. This highly unlikely scenario uses the original provocative theme purely as an excuse for lots of testosterone-fuelled action, loud explosions, gratuitous mayhem, formulaic and mindless carnage. Whereas the original managed to pit Van Damme against fellow action star Dolph Lundgren, the best this dire sequel can do is pit our uncharismatic muscle bound hero against Bill Goldberg, the popular wrestler, whose woeful, one-dimensional performance takes the craft of screen acting to a new low.

Universal Soldier The Return is a far cry from Van Damme's superior action thrillers like Time Cop and Sudden Death, and further demonstrates just how far his career has fallen. The scene in which his character complains that he doesn't want to be stereotyped resonates with an unintentional irony.

This is one return that is both unnecessary and unwelcome.

Copyright 2000 Greg King

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