Picks and Pans Review: Universal Soldier
Here is the ideal movie for those who found Terminator 2 insufficiently violent or too intellectually challenging. Crass, imbecilic, confused and easily predictable from start to finish, this film even shamefully lifts the main plot premise of the Terminator series: A robotic good guy and a befuddled young woman are stalked by a relentless, superhuman villain.
In this case the robotic types are Vietnam War fatalities who have been resurrected and turned into super soldiers, bionic man—style. (The closest the film comes to an explanation for the science behind this transformation is that they have been "hyperaccelerated," whatever that means. But then this movie devotes far more lime to cramming in multiple close-ups of people being shot in the head than in coherent storytelling.)
Lundgren (The Punisher) and Van Damme (Death Warrant) are perfectly cast as automatonlike ciphers who have only a passing acquaintance with English pronunciation. The whole cast, in fact—with hulking Tiny (Beverly Hills Cop II) Lister Jr. and Ralph (Best of the Best II) Moeller also among the soldieroids—is about as emotionally expressive as a fleet of Dumpsters. Even Ally (TV's True Blue) Walker, as the newswoman who helps the rebellious and wounded Van Damme flee from Lundgren, acts with a klutzy, off-putting artificiality.
Director Roland (Moon 44) Emmerich doesn't help himself by unimaginatively casting the subsidiary roles—there isn't one amusing secondary performance. Meanwhile, writers Richard Rothstein, Christopher Leitch and Dean Devlin, television veterans collaborating on their first feature, show a dismal lack of wit.
The action sequences are routine shoot-outs and punch-outs, even the inevitable confrontation between Lundgren and Van Damme. (Next to Lundgren, Van Damme seems ludicrously puny and outclassed, for one thing.)
Romantics may lake solace in the relationship that develops between Walker and Van Damme, even though it seems wildly unlikely—and their scenes together never suggest sex so much as they do appliance repair. (R)