Lionsgate // 1992 // 102 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // October 23rd, 2008
"You're discharged, Sarge."
One of the all-time great excursions into early '90s bombast hits Blu-ray and fans of ultra-violent movies about ripped action icons from a decade-and-a-half ago talking trash and tossing each other into farm combines will not be disappointed.
When Luc Devreaux (Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bloodsport) finds Sergeant Andrew Scott (Dolph Lundgren, Masters of the Universe) torturing innocents during the Vietnam War, this begins a lifelong adversarial relationship that temporarily culminates in both men nearly killing each other -- and ultimately transitions into godless science project. Devreaux and Scott are regenerated and enrolled in a top-secret military detachment of "Unisols," elite, super-powered, emotionless killing machines that are built specifically to follow orders and shoot bad guys in the eyeballs.
When both men gradually regain their memories, @#$% hits the fan and things start exploding. With a supremely irritating female reporter by his side, Devreaux embarks on a journey of self-discovery, with Scott in hot pursuit, tossing grenades willy-nilly.
Terrific sci-fi action movie from the hard-R days of beat'em up yore. I wager this is both Lundgren's and Van Damme's best effort -- action-packed, funny, surprisingly well-staged despite its comparatively paltry $20 million budget and sporting more than a share of classic moments.
"Where is he?"
Released in the Mario Kassar days of high adventure when an action movie refused to shy away from brains splattered on the wall and hypodermic needles being shoved with great prejudice through someone's cheek Universal Soldier pitted two up-and-coming mid-level smackdown stars against each other in a fun, far-out adventure spanning flyover country. Action set-pieces involve the opening Hoover Dam assault, featuring an objectively cool rappel down the face of the dam, a huge chase between the futuristic Unisol super-truck and a prison bus across the Grand Canyon and, last but certainly not least, the one-on-one bout between Devreaux and Scott that had been built up to the entire film, culminating in one of my all-time Final Bad Guy Death Scenes and sporting not one but two awesome one-liners.
Van Damme and Lundgren are both pretty good in this. Obviously neither is known as world-class thespians, but these roles are perfectly suited towards their limited abilities. As the psycho antagonist, Lundgren obviously has some fun hamming it up, talking trash, taunting his opponents, wearing a necklace of plastic ears around his neck. Van Damme, who was obviously still grappling with the mastery of the English language, is given a character that speaks in brief, deadpan sentences, reminiscent of Schwarzenegger's Terminator. It suits him, and he too has fun with it.
Universal Soldier is all about supplying a healthy dose of 'roid rage on film and what these guys were able to produce with a limited budget stands as an enduring testament to what a group of like-minded pyromaniacs can put together.
As for the Blu-ray, as much as I harbor a playful resentment towards Lionsgate for subjecting us to a seemingly endless stream of mediocre, straight-to-DVD horror films, I'll give them this much: they know how to put out a high-def disc. Universal Solder looks sublime, boasting a remarkably clean 2.35:1 widescreen treatment that competes even with new releases in its visual fidelity. The detailing really stands out, especially in the wide shots of the Grand Canyon and the Hoover Dam and the multiple explosions and vehicular carnage. This is simply a marvelous looking catalog release. The 5.1 DTS HD master audio track is expectedly aggressive, shining particularly in the big-bang action sequences. Extras: an "Out of the Blu" pop up trivia track, commentary with the director, writer and cast, two featurettes on the making-of the film and its two stars and an alternate ending.
A kick-ass red-meat actioner that's become a rarity these days receives a killer high-def technical presentation. Worth the upgrade for fans.
Not guilty. Soldier on!
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 1992
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Alternate Ending
* Trivia Track