Reviews by Alan Jones

selected from Starburst #255
Just one part of Starburst's monthly Reviews section. In every issue: a TV View, from the US or UK: our popular Bookshelf section on the latest Sci-Fi/Fantasy novels and writers, plus Soundtracks, games and websites in Cybertech, home entertainment in Videofile and DVD File, and John Brosnan's It's Only A Movie Universal Soldier: The Return 'Utterly Pathetic'
Universal Soldier: The Return

Those military androids constructed from deceased Vietnam veterans are back for no discernible reason whatsoever in a hopeless cut-and-paste job so poorly scripted, staged and edited it works better as unintentional comedy than a Science Fiction-tinged action adventure.

Universal Soldier, the blockbuster that launched the partnership of director Roland Emmerich and screenwriter Dean Devlin, was a dumb, noisy and enjoyable exploiter shamelessly cobbling Terminator and RoboCop together with a tongue-in-cheek élan. With a plot looking as worse for wear as returning headliner Jean-Claude Van Damme does, director Mic Rodgers’s crude sequel is just dumb and plays like a small-scale direct-to-video time-waster. The two unrelated cable TV spin-offs, Universal Soldier II: Brothers in Arms and Universal Soldier III: Unfinished Business, top-lining Matt Bataglia, must surely be better than this ‘official’ continuation.

The story, for want of a better word, reintroduces Luc Deveraux (Van Damme) – the last UniSol standing at the end of the original movie – as a rehabilitated hero now serving as a technical expert on the US government’s project to prepare a more sophisticated, intelligent and agile version of the cyborg warriors for deployment in situations of extreme emergency.

Naturally, no one has learnt from past mistakes, and when the computer in control, the Self-Evolving Thought Helix (SETH), gets wind of plans to cancel the whole programme (think of the lip-reading HAL 2000 from 2001), it seizes control of the secret Dallas facility, takes human form by transplanting its memory into a prototype android (Michael Jai White) and orders the super-UniSols to protect and preserve themselves at all costs. So Deveraux moves into one-man kick-boxing action to quell the mutiny and battle the flesh SETH who has kidnapped his sick daughter Hillary (Karis Paige Bryant).

Boringly centred around the corrugated metal military compound, there really are only so many glass walls and oil drums that can get smashed or exploded before tediousness sets in fast. Perfunctorily marshalled by stunt-co-ordinator-turned-director Rodgers (Braveheart, Payback) in what seems to be a deliberate effort to eliminate all possible excitement and empathy from the less-than-promising concept, rather than exactly the opposite, Universal Soldier: The Return collapses into an incoherent jumble of laughably bad limp conflicts off-set by a dismal speed-metal soundtrack. The Science Fiction elements take a back seat too making the cynically contrived affair even more of a complete dead loss.

Van Damme struts his usual stuff, only slower with clearer exertion and in less volume, murdering the English language along with any renegade UniSols that stagger into his sights. Michael Jai White has nothing to do except strike macho poses and Heidi Schanz (playing a TV reporter and Deveraux’s last minute love interest) overplays her part so stridently as if desperate to fill the shoes of Dolph Lundgren.

Straws to clutch at in this cheapo claptrap are an amusing Bill Goldberg as the unstoppable UniSol Romeo and the fact the it’s only 82 minutes long. Goldberg has obviously got his Wrestling buddies in on the mayhem as practically all the fight victims Van Damme cuts a geriatric swathe through are tattooed hulks which looks really odd when they are supposed to be playing hospital orderlies. “Won’t anyone respond?” says the major trying to establish contact with the Muscles from Brussels. No chance. Not to his character, not to this utterly pathetic continuation of a reasonable premise, and certainly not to Van Damme’s fast-diminishing lustre as a viable action superstar.

America – August
Britain – September

82 mins • Cert R/15

Jean-Claude Van Damme
Michael Jai White
Heidi Schanz
Xander Berkeley
Justin Lazard
Kiana Tom
Daniel Von Bargen
James Black
Karis Paige Bryant
Bill Goldberg

Production Producers •
Craig Baumgarten, Allen Shapiro, Jean-Claude Van Damme
Executive producers • Michael Rachmil, Daniel Melnick
Co-Producers •
Richard G Murphy, Adam Merins,
Bennett R Specter
Director •
Mic Rodgers
Screenplay •
William Malone,
John Fasano
based on characters created by Richard Rothstein, Christopher Leitch,
Dean Devlin
Music • Don Davis
Visual effects supervisor • Ralph Maiers

Starburst rating:
out of 10

Universal Soldier: The Return
picture copyright Columbia Tristar UK
Feature © Visual Imagination 1999. Not for reproduction
‘Van Damme struts his usual stuff, only slower with clearer exertion and in less volume’
Read all of Alan Jones' reviews for
The Sixth SenseDeep Blue SeaThe HauntingUniversal Soldier: The Return The Rage: Carrie 2
in Starburst #255

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