Universal Soldier

Year: 1992

Production: Carolco

Director: Roland Emmerich

Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, Ally Walker, Ed O'Ross, Jerry Orbac, Leon Rippy, Tico Wells, Tiny Lister Jr

Screenwriter: Richard Rothstein, Christopher Leitch, Dean Devlin

104 minutes; Color

A no-brain Saturday night action flick gung-ho enough to have the most lily-livered peacenik howling for blood, Universal Soldier backs up its second-string hulks with a Stallone-sized budget, then sets them on loose on a script which mixes sf, martial arts, exploding gas stations, sadistic wisecracks and post-'Nam angst.

In Vietnam, a bleeding heart private (Van Damme) scrags a psycho sergeant (Lundgren) who has been collecting ears from innocent bystanders. Then, in the film's present, the deep-frozen dead are revived for use in an experimental military program whereby well-trained zombies are let loose with enormous weapons and deployed every time a terrorist incident threatens the integrity of the USA. Wires get crossed and muscleheads revert to their old personalities: Van Damme hares across country with a journalist (Walker) in search of the truth, while Lundgren slaughters all and sundry in an extended 'Nam flashback while giving out with terrible one-liners ("I'm all ears").

Emmerich, half-way between the Euro-dreariness of Moon 44 (1990) and the epic tosh Stargate (1994), turns in a well put-together if standardized 1990s genre film. Both he-men are given a chance to get away from their direct-to-video roots: Van Damme, so proud of his bottom that he makes sure it appears in each of his films, does sub-Robocop bewilderment but cuts loose whenever he gets to show off high kicks, while Lundgren, an unhappy good guy in Masters of the Universe (1987) or Dark Angel (1990), demonstrate that nature and his hairdresser have suited him perfectly to Nazi genetic-engineered baddie roles. The action is interrupted only be pre-digested plot chunks and Linda-Hamilton-lookalike Walker's irritating hyperactivity. The 1992 theme of time-interrupted relationships (Late for Dinner, Freejack) is exercised as Van Damme, who sounds more like a soldier killed in Indochina in 1954 than Vietnam in 1969, gets sensitive en route to a reunion with his parents. Lundgren, a foot and a hairstyle taller than the hero, gnashes his teeth until a last-reel punch-up involving do-it-yourself steroids and a multi-pronged farm implement.

The Overlook Film Encyclopedia - Science Fiction

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