Does anyone remember Jean-Claude Van Damme anymore? For readers that don’t recall this junior varsity action hero of the 90s, he was exactly that – second fiddle to the more popular heroes Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, forced to watch from the B-movie sidelines alongside Weasley Snipes (P.S. Blade sucks too, but we’ll get there in another Ass Bin). But before his career could wither away into IMDB obscurity, he managed to roundhouse kick a handful of hilariously nonsensical action films into theaters and straight to DVD. But one movie in particular stands out from the yawn inducing crowd – Universal Soldier: The Return.
Universal Soldier: The Return (USTR) plays out the most stereotypical military action movie plot line possible. A unit of unbelievably skillful soldiers betrays the U.S. government in an attempt to control the world and only Jean-Claude, a former member of the unit and conveniently the best soldier to ever convert diatomic oxygen into carbon dioxide (breathing, for the laymen among us), has the skill to put the uprising down before it’s too late! If the plot’s action packed potential doesn’t get your blood pumping so fast that it’s ready to burst through your eye sockets, then you have probably seen any action movie ever before.
What sets USTR slightly, and I do mean slightly, off the generic mark is the fact that the evil military unit in question is comprised of revived dead soldiers, transformed into invincible war machines, and led by a super intelligent computer AI that at some point also figures out a way to inhabit a human body. Yes, the plotline is so poorly constructed and dull that even the underlying premise of almost-zombie super soldiers (which are immune to bullets, fire, falling damage, explosions, and a plethora roundhouse kicks) and the threat of computer dominance over humanity cannot make USTR interesting for the right reasons.
A sub plot line during the last half hour shows Jean-Claude’s attempt to save his daughter while she is suffering from the most realistic wound in the history of action movies (she gets knocked down a few stairs and suffers possible brain damage, probably because she’s a woman, and this movie makes it very clear that women cannot do anything), but by the time that comes around, viewers
Speaking of not caring, no one in the film seems to be aware of the fact that the process which turns the recently deceased into universal soldiers REANIMATES THE DEAD. Seriously, no one cares about that? Furthermore, because Jean-Claude’s character “used to be one of them,” the process can be entirely reversed to remove the control devices and return a person to full health (and without losing a level or any experience!). Apparently, bringing the dead back to life, and the “healing lasers” used to mend bone and flesh wounds incurred during the transformation, just are not enough to interest the military, which seems to put every effort into being the definitive “bumbling government agency” stereotype.
Besides the WTF!? factor inherent in the sort of zombie soldiers plot, the entertainment value viewers will squeeze from the 83 minute runtime comes almost entirely from plethora of explosions, rock music, and fight scenes. With uncharacteristically little exaggeration, I can assure you that every scene features either explosions and gun fights, or roundhouse kicks and boobs. Sometimes all four. Jean-Claude shoots and kicks anything that can be, and since anything shot/kicked in an action movie must catch fire or explode, materials normally resistant to combustion, such as humans and things made out of metal, have a tendency to leave the screen in a fiery boom.
Ending with an incredible firestorm of explosions, triggered by a single gunshot no less, the “film” closes with Jean-Claude, the irritating reporter following him around, and his daughter sharing a heartwarming reunion hug. And then it ends as though they literally ran out of film after spending the entire budget on pyrotechnics. The scene probably continues on for several minutes of mushy agony, but viewers dodge that particular foot to the face.
Recommendation: Anyone that misses the unintentionally humor rich action era of the 90s will enjoy the nonstop gun fights and one liners of Universal Soldier: The Return. Just make sure there’s a copy of True Lies or Demolition Man nearby to rinse off the stench of bland writing.
Think I didn’t give Universal Soldier: The Return enough credit for its action? Need to reminisce about Mr. Van Damme? Talk about it in the forums!