Universal Soldier: The Return (1999): Breakdown by Rantbo
Cash-in on the Universal Soldier name with a shitty piece of shitty shit sequel that shits on the original.
While the exact time frame of Van Damme’s self inflicted life-slump (otherwise known as the “Cocaine Years”) still has yet to be finalized and made public, one thing is for certain: the pinnacle moment of poor judgment and pure paycheck project selection, UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: THE RETURN.
With his popularity and fan base waning after the box-office duds DOUBLE TEAM and KNOCK OFF, Van Damme had one card left up his incredibly form-fitting sleeve: The Sequel Comeback. So, did it work?
The short answer: No. No it did not. And for good reason, as UNI-SOL:TR is without a doubt one of, if not THE, worst film Van Damme has ever been in. Which includes both BREAKIN’ and BLACK EAGLE. And this perfect shit-storm pretty much killed off his theatrical career (REPLICANT, withstanding) and rightfully drove him to the realm of DTV. Yes you read that correctly, I said “rightfully”. With his drug-addled, punch-drunk brain calling all the shots, JC was in serious need of a back-handed wake-up call to how fucked his life had become, one this film in particular seemed only too happy to deliver. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
Van Damme returns from the ice-box (as the title suggests), as retired UniSol, Luc Deveraux (or so they’d have us believe*), now in charge of a safe and friendly UniSol independent “out-patient” corporation (or whatever), designed with the intentions of replacing the need for non-undead American soldiers. *Only this is not the human popsicle we came to know and love back from ‘92. “Luc” is now a regular un-undead (apparently the process can be “reversed”, yet the technology necessary to fix that knot on his forehead has remained unsolvable) corporate sell-out, with a full range of emotions and a daughter, courtesy of the raspy voiced reporter vixen, what’s-her-name, from part one (I‘m assuming…). Yet she’s nowhere to be seen (died in the back-story), as even the D-List actress that played her was able to foresee the outcome of this brainchild. They do, oddly enough, deliver us a different reporter for Luc to engage. But really, the only seemingly recognizable trait of Deveraux’s past seems to be his ridiculously firm glutes. However…
The filmmakers did seem to get one similar aspect of the first film right, and that is in the casting of a Bad-Ass villain: Michael Jai White, ladies and gentlemen.
His role has something stupid to do with a ‘HAL 9000-esque’ super computer becoming self-aware and taking control of the UniSols, eventually putting himself into MJW’s body (a wise choice), to better kill the software oppressing Deveraux and his colleagues. But really this doesn’t mean much of anything, or matter too much as the entire point of this film seems to have been to act as a warm-up action vehicle for the popular (at the time) wrestling star, Bill Goldberg. Al this just to get him on the big screen to shout some lame one-liners and blow shit up with explosive weaponry. So, not really an ALL-TOGETHER terrible idea, but the execution is just plain dogshit.
Every action scene not featuring Van Damme (and some that do) are straight-up made for TV in style and content, and as such are both boring and laughable. The music selection is atrocious b-grade heavy metal, blasted during every second of the mediocre attempts at tension and suspense. The dialogue is nothing short of embarrassing, the worst/best/worst again of which clearly belonging to Goldberg, as the filmmakers somehow felt the need to ADR at least 5 lines throughout, of such painful punnery, it truly does feel like you’re watching Wrestlemania. Only with worse acting. And then there’s the absolute worse thing about this entry: the story. It makes no god damned sense at all. And what’s worse, they clearly knew this as they didn’t bother to explain any of the nonsensical scenarios, crazy character continuity changes, or give reason for furthering the story of Luc other than to get the words “Universal” and “Soldier” in the title of some shitty C-Grade sci-fi screenplay. AND to put naive fan asses in the theater seats. It’s simply deplorable.
That said, it’s still pretty funny and entertaining. I don’t doubt you can find a copy for less than five dollars, and in a way, it’s worth it for a good laugh. Not to say the film’s overbearing jokes or lack of seriousness is humorous (it isn’t), but it’s funny in that way that the careers of almost everyone involved clearly suffered for their atrocity toward Bad-Ass Cinema. Oh, and Michael Jai White is in it too—did I mention that already?
[HOW BAD-ASS IS THE MAIN CHARACTER?]
Jean-Claude Van Damme is Luc Deveraux, The Return
Gone is the stoic muscle-man that bathed naked in ice water and ate 25 platters of truck-stop diner food. Replacing him is a family man of full varying emotions, just looking for the right reporter to replace the one he let die. As I went over above, Van Damme is hardly the man/thing he was from part one, instead deciding to play the role in much the same manner as 20 or so of his other films, and as such, is pretty ho-hum and drum. While he can still shoot the shit out of a plasma rifle and more than carry himself in a fight with a humanoid computer, his lack of original lackadaisical coldness is missed, and aside from his fight with MJW adds to a once potential, yet now, forgettable role. Hopefully with REGENERATION, they make like HIGHLANDER III and forget this skewed character arch ever happened.
[THE BODY COUNT: 66]
Van Damme scores a moderately high (at least for him) count of 16. Of which most are shot repeatedly and/or blown to pieces. In fact, all but eight of these unfortunate 66 souls are wasted via bullets and fiery explosion. The other variants being, electrocution, broken neck and spine, and a quite unique death by defibrillator. And one more, which you can read about below. So all-in-all, an extremely violent Van Damme picture.
Check out the Body Count Breakdown for full details.
[MOST SATISFYING ASS-KICKING & DEATH]
JCVD vs. MJW
Could it have been any other? Watching these two duke it out in a labyrinth of glass walls is the sole reason to watch this film. Even though S.E.T.H. is 5 times stronger than the re-humanized Deveraux, the filmmakers thankfully forgot their own continuity in making them both equal in battle. The two beefcake titans of martial arts exchange kick for kick, neck-chop for neck-chop, cheap-futile-attempt-at-using-an-improvised-piece-of-décor-as-a-weapon for cheap-futile-attempt-at-using-an-improvised-piece-of-décor-as-a-weapon, effectively beating what would be an average man to death at least 10 times over. Yet neither seem to break a sweat. In fact, the only foreseeable reason that Luc decides he must end the ass-kickery is to save his daughter from being turned into a KiddieSol, so he tricks S.E.T.H. into a liquid-nitrogen car-wash thingy and kick-explodes him T-1000 style, effectively ending the TERMINATOR rip-off that began back in ‘92. Of course, until part 5…
[DUDESWEAT AND MACHISMO]
Erin: What is it with you boys, and your war toys!?
Hillary: I want my dad.
S.E.T.H. Brain Super UniSol: So do I.
Apparently during the process of “reversing” his Uni-Soul, the asshole team of scientist also removed Luc’s gay gene, as this could quite possibly be the LEAST homoerotic Van Damme film. Which really adds to the whole “worst film Van Damme has ever been in” claim I made above. Not only does Van Damme remain fully clothed the entire film (not even a shoulder is shown), he had a wife in the back-story, checks out, not one, but TWO women’s bra-covered breasts AND it’s insinuated that he frequents the local titty bar.
Thankfully though, again as mentioned above, this film is (read: was intended as) a Goldberg action vehicle, so he assumes the role of the gay wad.
Ripping off his shirt, at least 23 times during the 82 minutes, Bill is all too proud to display his massive and unnatural looking physique to anyone and everyone that isn’t a member of the female sex. And in doing so, almost redeems himself from all the terrible one-liners he agreed to add in post production.
[EXPLOITATION AND MISOGYNY]
Erin: Eyes front soldier!
Listen to the lady, Van Damme! You don’t want that kind of confusion mucking up your uber-gayness.
The lack of homoerotism of this picture is puzzling, but it appears as though this was due to the surplus of anti-vagina material. The film has three main female characters. First is Maggie, Luc’s (clearly lesbian) friend and co-worker. She has her shirt ripped by Romeo, is knocked unconscious by a UniSol, and then turned into one herself. A criminal act she deems too egregious to go on living with afterward. So, she allows herself to be blown up.
Romeo: Woman. Expendable.
Indeed they all are, dear Romeo. Indeed they all are.
Second is Erin, the bigger breasted, better looking, former cheerleader replacement reporter. What can I say other than that at least she’s fun to look at. And finally, there is little Hillary, Luc’s daughter. Well, she gets knocked down a flight of stairs by Romeo and spends the second act of the film on a hospital bed with a hemorrhaging brain. Then she’s kidnapped and almost turned into a UniSol. Thanks for playing, ladies!
[EPIC MOMENT AND BEST ONE-LINER]
EP-M: Where’s Swayze?
Out of nowhere, Luc and Erin make a pit-stop at a titty bar to use their computer (seriously), and wouldn’t you know it, end up in an epic bar fight that Dalton himself would have had trouble cooling down. It’s so out-of-place and such a complete non-sequitur sequence, but ends up being the highlight of the whole flick. The only reasoning behind this scene that I can figure, was to make up to the audience for the fact that the two female leads (despite being nobody C-List Actresses), refused to remove the boulder-holders and it was the best excuse the filmmakers could think of to insert a bunch of gratuitous titties. Well, OK by me! Not to mention, the fight is pretty bad-ass also…
Romeo: I’m just warmin’ up, Deveraux!
Get it!? ‘Cuz he’s on fire! HA—HA—haaaaaaaaaaaa…
[THE MORAL OF THE STORY]
The only way to kill a UniSol is to blow them up. And hope the pieces don’t keep fighting…
[THE VAN DAMMAGE: 3 outta 5]
[ ] An Entire Fight, Sans Shirt
[X] Close-Up Screaming
[ ] Dancing
[X] Jump-Kicks A Guy, Through Something
[X] Special Move Involving Either The Splits or A Spinning Round-House Kick
[THE CHECKLIST: 16 outta 25]
[X] Athlete(s) Turned “Actor”
[X] Clinging To The Outside Of A Moving Vehicle
[ ] Crotch Attack
[ ] Dialogue Telling Us How Bad-Ass The Main Character(s) Is/Are
[ ] Ending Featuring An Ambulance, A Blanket or A Towel
[X] Giant Explosion(s)
[X] Heavy Artillery
[X] Improvised Weapon(s)
[X] Macho Mode(s) Of Transportation
[X] Main Character Sports Facial Accessory(s)
[X] Manly Embrace(s)
[ ] Notorious Stunt-Man Sighting
[ ] Passage(s) Of Time Via Montage
[X] Politically Fueled Plot Point(s)
[X] Senseless Destruction Of Property
[X] Shoot Out(s) and/or Sword Fight(s)
[ ] Slow-Motion Finishing Move(s)/Death(s)
[X] Stupid Authoritative Figure(s)
[X] Substance Usage and/or Abuse
[ ] Tis The Season
[ ] Torture Sequence(s)
[X] Unnecessary Sequel [Universal Soldier: Regeneration]
[ ] Vehicle Chase(s)
[X] Vigilante Justice
Universal Soldier: The Return (1999) © Sony Pictures Entertainment and Columbia TriStar Home Video
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