Every day Robert Saucedo shines a spotlight on a movie either so bad it’s good or just downright terrible. Today: Fourth times the trick!
A few months ago, I was introduced to the Universal Soldier franchise with the fourth film in the series, The Return. While I enjoyed the movie, it was entirely because of how unrepentantly awful it was.
Universal Soldier: Regeneration, on the other hand, is an entirely different animal.
Released on DVD and Blu-ray earlier this year, Regeneration is essentially a reboot of the series — wisely choosing to ignore any of the previous sequels that had come before.
Jean Claude Van Damme returns as Luc Deveraux, a former Universal Soldier struggling to regain a semblance of humanity — but gone are any traces of his character’s child or the incessant need to crack jokes that he displayed in The Return.
When a group of terrorists kidnap the children of the Russian prime minister, it is revealed that a villainous general (played by Aki Avni) has gotten his hands on a stolen next-generation model Universal Soldier. This NGU is played by Andrei Arlovski, a brute of a man who specializes in a flurry of punches with the minimal amount of banter.
Controlling the NUG is Dr. Colin, a rouge American scientist with his own plans for world domination.
Naturally, the idea of a super solider in the hands of terrorists isn’t anything that sits well with the United States and a team of special forces soldiers are sent in to put a stop to the terrorists.
Not even the last remaining Universal Soldiers controlled by the US government are enough to stand up to the terrorists’ pet NGU, though.
Soon, it’s only Deveraux himself who has the ability to sneak into the terrorists’ compound, save the prime minister’s children and destroy not only the NGU but also Dr. Colin’s secret weapon, a cloned and upgraded version of the Andrew Scott Universal Soldier from the original film — played by Dolph Lundgren who returns to the series after almost 20 years.
What works so well for Regeneration and helps set it apart from the three other sequels in the Universal Soldier franchise is the quiet no-nonsense approach to the film’s action scenes.
While 1999’s The Return traded in campy excess — with glistening bare-chested man brawls and big-boobed women caught in explosions — Regeneration, under the watchful eye of director John Hyams (son of famed action maestro Peter Hyams — who serves as cinematographer on his son’s film), Universal Soldier: Regeneration is a low-budget, brutal action film.
Perhaps because the budget could not afford it, there is absolutely no excess in the film. Every shot, every punch and every thwap of a metal pipe against a human skull means something.
The film’s climax is largely told without dialogue — just a series of well-choreographed action scenes centered around some truly amazing sound design and synth score.
The acting in the film is also to be commended. Jean Claude Van Damme — who has really been stretching his acting muscles lately — turns in a finely nuanced performance as a man struggling to relearn how to be human. There is absolutely no trace of the cheese that he secreted effortlessly in the last Universal Solider film.
Dolph Lundgren also turned in an admirable performance — playing a complex and interesting villain during the short time he appears on screen.
Andrei Arlovski as the NGU shouldn’t be ignored, either. The hard-edged fight scenes he performs are absolutely stunning.
Whether you are a fan of the Universal Solider movies or, if like myself, you thought the previous films to be a joke — you owe it to yourself to check out Universal Soldier: Regeneration. While it may seem odd that a straight-to-DVD sequel to a 1992 action film would be receiving this amount of praise, trust me: the hype is justified.
Robert Saucedo and Jay-Z would like to remind you that the thug is also justified. Follow Robert on Twitter @robsaucedo2500.
Robert Saucedo is an avid movie watcher with seriously poor sleeping habits. The Mikey from Life cereal of film fans, Robert will watch just about anything — good, bad or ugly. He has written about film for newspapers, radio and online for the last 10 years. This has taken a toll on his sanity — of that you can be sure. Follow him on Twitter at @robsaucedo2500.