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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 MrBrown
0 stars out of 4

When one goes to a Jean-Claude Van Damme action movie, one doesn't expect certain things they would from a typical film--for example, decent acting, a strong storyline, interesting characters. True to Van Damme form, _Universal_Soldier:_The_Return_ boasts none of these qualities. The problem is, neither does it possess the one thing for which one would watch a Van Damme vehicle in the first place: excitement.

_The_Return_ is, as can be gleaned by its title, the third sequel (the Van Damme-less numbers 2 and 3 went straight to cable) to the Muscles from Brussels's 1992 sci-fi thriller, created by overpaid uberhacks Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin. That film was far from a masterpiece--in fact, it was quite bad--but it did have its share of diverting moments, not to mention a casting gimmick that proved to be the film's biggest drawing card: pit against Van Damme as the baddie was another lower-tier action star, Dolph Lundgren.

With Lundgren's character having been fed into a wood chipper at the end of the first film, there really is no novelty left for _The_Return_. All that remains are the formica acting and still-below-average English skills of Van Damme and the plot concept of having dead soldiers reanimated into invincible supersoldiers. The nothing plotline cooked up by _The_Return_'s "writers" (I won't dignify their "work" by mentioning their names) has the computer in charge of a new advanced brand of UniSols, SETH (eventually played in human form by Michael Jai White, a charismatic actor who at one point seemed to have a promising career), going berserk and hence making his UniSols go on a killing spree. The only one who can stop them of course, is Van Damme's Luc Deveraux, one of the original UniSols.

There is plenty of mayhem in _The_Return_; the film begins with an extended jetski/boat chase, and numerous fights and shootouts follow. Sounds interesting, and, if anything all the wild goings-on keep the viewer awake. But since they are so conventionally, matter-of-factly shot and staged by director Mic Rodgers, none of it was particularly exciting; one generic set piece comes after another, ultimately blurring into one unmemorable whole by the end of the film.

Perhaps Rodgers thought the mere presence of Van Damme would compensate, or that of one of his co-stars--Bill Goldberg, of World Championship Wrestling fame, who plays the evil Romeo. While not at the level of Lundgren's casting in the original, seeing Goldberg on the big screen does hold some curious interest. At least, that is, until it becomes painfully (if unsurprisingly) evident that Goldberg can't act a lick, and his one showcase scene, where he rips off his shirt for no apparent reason and dispatches some foes using some wrestling maneuvers, just makes his presence in the film even more ludicrous.

Van Damme has expressed his interest in making a break from the hard action scene and going into more classy thriller territory, la _The_Thomas_Crown_Affair_. It's a ridiculous idea, but from Van Damme's standpoint, it's understandable. With the complete failure of _Universal_Soldier:_The_Return_, it's obvious that the action route is keeping him stranded in his career cul-de-sac, and he'd be stupid _not_ to look for an alternate way out.

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