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Universal Soldier, Special Edition (French/English Version)
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Luc Devreaux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and Sgt. Andrew Scott (Dolph Lundgren) are two soldiers who kill each other in Vietnam and are brought back to life 25 years later for a secret government program. Know as "Unisols," they are genetically enhanced, unstoppable killing machine without memory, feeling or free will. But when Devreaux's memory starts to return and he escapes the program, a superhuman chase across the country begins.
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I believe that people take movies too seriously. I prefer to sit back and appreciate nostalgia and goofiness rather than getting uptight about "muh plot" - just have fun.
This is a surprisingly good movie, given the genre. Its major weakness, amazingly enough, is not the acting; it's the writing, which leaves some holes in the plot big enough to drive a truck through. The process for creating the Unisols from dead men is glossed over and technically quite weak, especially since this is supposed to be a science-fiction movie. Things are a little too simplistic, with the military predictably the bad guys and the crusading reporter a bit too self-serving and self-righteous.
However, its flaws are minor and are easy to overlook in light of the movie's good qualities. The action sequences are well-choreographed and the special effects are solidly done. One such effect was the removal of body hair from the men playing the artificially enhanced soldiers, which gave them a plastic appearance. The blood, wounds and explosions are all quite realistic and definitely not for the squeamish. By far, the best aspects of this flick are both the special effects and the acting. Ally Walker is both tough and funny as the reporter who helps Luc in his quest for information and his journey home. Dolph Lundgren is creepy and convincing as the psychotic Andrew Scott, with a healthy dose of black humor thrown in with his cruelty. Quite surprisingly, Jean-Claude Van Damme does an excellent job of conveying Luc Devereaux as a vulnerable, almost childlike man emerging from a long nightmare. Since there isn't much dialogue, he uses his facial expressions, particularly his large eyes, and his body language much more effectively than his words. The rest of the cast is also effective and believable in their roles, even the other big hulks they cast as the rest of the soldiers. Like in Terminator, the amount of dialogue is kept to a minimum and therefore the actors' shortcomings are not put on display.
We aren't big Van Damme fans, but found this movie very enjoyable and quite entertaining. It had some humorous moments, and was more intelligent than most of his movies. This DVD was well worth its money in entertainment value.
Okay, Van Damme isn't known for his great acting - there's a reason his nickname is the Muscles from Brussels. But what he does, he does quite well, which is flex those pecs and abs and throw those helicopter kicks. He found himself in trashy plots, regurgitated from one picture to the next, and his characters were normally cardboard cutouts. So Van Damme knows the scope of his skills, and he (or his handlers) are smart enough to stick to his purview. In its time, UNIVERSAL SOLDIER featured two of Hollywood's hottest action movie stars: Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren (who got his cred playing Ivan Drago in Rocky IV). And this pairing was enough to turn the movie into a moderate box office success. With all that in mind, UNIVERSAL SOLDIER does entertain, even when one factors in the weak dialogue, two male leads not known for acting, and the typical dumbing-down of the storyline.
The concept is actually pretty cool. Deceased soldiers are revived thru modern science and engineered to be counter-terrorist agents. Two of these Universal Soldiers (or UniSols) are Private Luc Deveraux (Van Damme) and Sergeant Andrew Scott (Lundgren), two Vietnam-era G.I grunts who share a vicious history. Twenty-five years ago, deep in the Vietnam War, Sgt. Scott, kind of a sadistic tool, has gone loony in the jungle and is committing acts of atrocities against innocent Vietnam villagers (he's also shot up most of his platoon). Louisiana farmboy Pvt. Deveraux's tour of duty is almost over, but he tries to stop the psycho sergeant anyway. The confrontation results in the two soldiers killing each other. Which is when the story really gets going.
Cut to present day, and the Hoover Dam has just been taken over by terrorists. The mysterious Universal Soldiers are deployed and are impressive in taking out the terrorists. Two of these UniSols turn out to be Deveraux and Scott, the dirty little secret being that they've pretty much been zombified, mindwiped and rendered super-strong and quick-healing, their resuscitation somehow involving the constant cooling down of their core temperatures. But Deveraux begins to override his zombie programming, starts to have Vietnam flashbacks. He garners enough self-will to go rogue and make a break for it. And naturally there's a beautiful girl in tow, a tough-talking TV news reporter played with grit and feistiness by a very game Ally Walker (the best actor in this movie). So off they go, and hotly pursued by the implacable UniSol units, including the erstwhile Sergeant Scott who is also shaking off his UniSol programming.
A poor man's TERMINATOR 2? Yeah, probably. But, boy, did I like UNIVERSAL SOLDIER when it came out in '92. It's a neat concept, and the writers really should've developed the story more, instead of strictly sticking with the Man On the Lam schtick. But if you're in a popcorn mood and disinclined to ponder deep thoughts, then this'll do ya. Van Damme! Lundgren! In the late '80s, early '90s, these two cats may not have had the pedigree of Schwarzenegger or Stallone, but they were the next best thing (okay, fine, throw Steven Seagal in there, too). And, unlike Jet Li and Jason Statham in the disappointing WAR, when Van Damme and Lundgren faced off, they faced off, brother! Van Damme's forehead knot has never looked more ferocious!
UNIVERSAL SOLDIER was craphammered for the acting, but this is probably Lundgren's best acting job. He does a pretty awesome over-the-top psychopath, and is a dang scary mofo in this movie. Lundgren's character is a good foil for Van Damme's good guy hunk. Van Damme himself isn't too bad. He seems to be able to channel this certain puzzled innocence into his performances, and that quality is onscreen again here. Of course, my saying that Van Damme "isn't too bad" has to be weighed against the fact that he plays a robotic semi-zombie for parts of this flick. And, okay, Van Damme again displays his nether cheeks. For de ladies, that alone may trump the acting.
This Special Edition DVD contains the following special features: audio commentary with Van Damme, Lundgren, director Roland Emmerich and writer Dean Devlin; "Guns, Genes and Fighting Machines" - the 19-minute-long Making Of segment; Tale of 2 Titans - Van Damme and Lundgren respectively talk about their backgrounds, their big acting breaks, and their individual film careers; a depressing alternate ending; and trailers. The bonus stuff is actually pretty decent, with maybe the most interesting thing learned being that Lundgren actually had a Master's degree in chemical engineering and was headed for MIT before the movie bug bit him.
UNIVERSAL SOLDIER is loud and violent and action-packed. Action highlights include the rapid rappelling of the Hoover Dam, an amusing diner brawl with Van Damme quizzically taking out the rubes whilst scarfing his meal ("I just want to eat."), and the big Van Damme-Lundgren showdown at the end, where things get really chippy. I do wish, though, that Lundgren was given a chance to demonstrate more of his martial arts skill. Between Dolph and Jean-Claude, Dolph was actually considered the more credible martial artist. Anyways, memory association with this film prompts images of gross ear necklaces and big scary honking needles. On the Blink-Fast-And-You'll-Miss-It front, there's the pseudo-science explanation of the UniSols (something about hyperaccelerating the bodies, transforming dead flesh into living tissue).
UNIVERSAL SOLDIER made enough cheese that it birthed two awful and Van Damme-less sequels: UNIVERSAL SOLDIER 2: BROTHERS IN ARMS and UNIVERSAL SOLDIER 3: UNFINISHED BUSINESS (Universal Soldier 2/ Universal Soldier 3 (Double Feature)). Van Damme came back in the lame Universal Soldier - The Return. Word is that filming is currently going on for UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: THE NEXT GENERATION, in which Van Damme reprises his Luc Deveraux role. There's a bunch of good will out there right now for Jean-Claude, what with his getting rave reviews for his latest flick Jcvd (in which he plays himself). Who woulda thunk that, after all these years, he had it in him to become a relevant modern day pop culture icon? Take that, Steven Seagal!