Sony // 2009 // 97 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Michael Rubino (Retired) // February 12th, 2010
"Deceased...as in dead?"
The original Universal Soldier is relevant in the annals of action movie history for the sheer fact that Jean-Claude Van Damme went toe-to-toe with Dolph Lundgren for almost two whole hours. Now, after plenty of direct-to-video/cable sequels, the series reboots and returns to its marquee match-up.
A bunch of terrorists have kidnapped the Russian president's children and taken over the Chernobyl power plant. Not only do they have plans to blow the place sky high, they also have a stolen next-gen UniSol called the NGU (MMA fighter Andrei "The Pitbull" Arlovski). He's a real beast.
U.S./Russian forces have no choice but to bring out their own set of UniSols, who are promptly beaten into applesauce by the NGU. Their only hope is the original Universal Soldier, Luc Deveraux (Jean-Claude Van Damme, JCVD), who is undergoing psychotherapy in Switzerland.
How could the bad guys possibly compete against someone as unstoppable as Deveraux? Why, bust out a clone of his arch nemesis, Andrew Scott (Dolph Lundgren, The Punisher), that's how.
Admittedly, I kind of enjoyed Roland Emmerich's original Universal Soldier. It was big, dumb fun with plenty of action and a couple really sweet death scenes. Plus Van Damme and Lundgren put on a heck of a show together. I didn't have high hopes going into this thing, but once the film started, I was pleasantly surprised.
Universal Soldier: Regeneration begins in the tranquil halls of an art museum. I was intrigued. Then, within minutes, the film bursts wide open as men storm the building and kidnap two teenagers. A violent car chase breaks out, with cameras swinging around, editors chopping film with the fury of a thousand karate students, and blood packs bursting all over various windshields and paper-thin body armor. I didn't know what I was watching, but I was floored. The opening chase scene was cooler than any other direct-to-DVD stuff I had seen.
The film calms down, of course, but never too much. The plot stays thin and basic, and the characters are all screaming archetypes. You got the angry American generals; the cocky, rogue soldier; the evil, corporate dude; the traitorous, wisecracking scientist; etc. It's your basic rogue's gallery, and it works.
Regeneration lacks any of the antics and amicability of its early '90s predecessor, and instead embraces the bleak, gray tones of our modern action movies. While that's not my favorite hue, director John Hyams shows he's got what it takes to make an interesting action film on a tight budget. The movie has some neat stunts, and the hand-to-hand combat is downright brutal.
None of the three stars on the cover really get a ton of screen time, but they make the most of it when they do. MMA veteran Andrei "The Pitbull" Arlovski is an appropriately menacing UniSol, and he really knows how to give faces a good pounding. Van Damme, on the other hand, turns in a relatively quiet performance, befitting of a character who's really been through a lot. He still knows how to kick, though, and his various fight sequences throughout the latter half of the film are evidence of that (and he still finds time to beat up a guy in a diner). I especially enjoyed the prolonged battle between Devreaux and the Andrew Scott clone. Lundgren doesn't appear in the film until the hour mark, but when he does, he steals the show: he tears through half a building, kills half a dozen people, gets thrown out a window, and...well, I don't want to give it away.
Regeneration doesn't feel very connected to the franchise, but it also doesn't need to be. The film is schlocky, violent, and entertaining. It's also great to see Van Damme and Lundgren trade kicks again; I only wish someone would have had something pithy to say.
The film looks decent enough for direct-to-video, although I saw a fair amount of digital blur during fast action sequences. The colors are all in the dull blue range, and the black levels are soft, but it all adds to the dreary, bleak atmosphere that the film seems to be going for. The sound mixing is good, and devoid of a lot of the mechanical buzzing found in that original film.
The DVD also comes with an entertaining commentary track featuring Lundgren and Hyams as well as a behind-the-scenes featurette with interviews of the cast and crew. Two solid supplements.
Universal Soldier: Regeneration isn't great cinema by any means, but it's a good degree of fun. Each of the stars makes the most of his respective (limited) screen time, and the solid action sequences makes up for the generic plot.
For action fans, it's worth a rental.
Not that guilty.
Review content copyright © 2010 Michael Rubino; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* DVD Verdict Interview with Dolph Lundgren