Friday, October 19, 2012

This Time, '2001: A Space Odyssey' Meets a Steaming Pile of Poo: "Universal Soldier: The Return" (1999)

I viewed this ill-conceived sequel immediately after the first film, resulting in three and a half hours of my life I cannot ever get back.

Luc (Jean-Claude Van Damme) is now a-okay, cured of his Universal Soldier tendencies. His wife from the first film has died, but he has a spunky daughter (Karis Paige Bryant), and works training a new round of Universal Soldiers. This time, the soldiers are controlled by a trustworthy computer named SETH, so absolutely nothing could possibly go wrong...

SETH decides he wants to keep the Universal Soldier program going after the Defense Department shuts it down. He orders the Universal Soldiers to start killing all the puny humans who are trying to destroy them, and SETH gets a new body of his own in the form of Michael Jai White. With the aid of a new spunky gal TV reporter love interest, Erin (Heidi Schanz), Luc must do battle with the soldiers while trying to rescue his daughter and stop unfeeling general Radford (Daniel Von Bargen) from blowing up central Texas in order to destroy SETH.

Ugh. I am at a loss for words. This film is thankfully twenty minutes shorter than the first film, and not as bloody. It is, however, nothing more than a series of uninspired fistfights and gun battles, where no character shows even the slightest hint of common sense. Van Damme's attempt to restart the franchise comes off as a vanity project made to aid his ailing career. If you look at all the actors here, they have the same expression on their faces: "what am I doing here?" The producers pull out all the stops, trying to keep the audience from falling asleep. Let's go to a strip club! Weak heavy metal songs on the soundtrack! Wrestler Bill Goldberg, throwing people around! Stunts and explosions! Did I mention the strip club?!

"Universal Soldier: The Return" is on par with the original, which sucked, too. Please, Jean-Claude, find something else, or better still, retire from films altogether. (*) out of five stars.