Case Number 11416: Small Claims Court

VAN DAMME COLLECTOR'S SET

Kickboxer
Lionsgate // 1989 // 105 Minutes // Rated R
Universal Soldier
Lionsgate // 1991 // 103 Minutes // Rated R
Replicant
Lionsgate // 2001 // 101 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // May 18th, 2007

The Charge

Van Damage!

The Case

Looking for a trifecta of Van Damme action on the cheap? Lionsgate has a three-disc set for your perusal for under $20. That works out to about $2.14 per slow-motion spinning jump kick!

Kickboxer

Plot Synopsis in Haiku
Van Damme's bro is smoked
To avenge he trains hard and
Kicks ass with hands of glass

Why This is a Good Van Damme Movie
The film stars a rookie Van Damme as Kurt Sloane in the oft-used action role of apprentice-on-a-death-vendetta-that-trains-with-a-crochety-old-martial-arts-master-and-eventually-beats-the-snot-of-the-main-bad guy. It's certainly a tried-and-true formula, utilized by many films before, but Van Damme is a much more capable action star than, say, Ralph Macchio, and he and all his physical glory are exhibited here in full force.

The primary fighting style is a Muay Thai variation, though the discipline apparently allows Van Damme to bastardize it with his own brand of high flying acrobatics, which is fine; the guy can jump and kick extremely well, and not necessarily in that order. And the scenarios that the aforementioned training master puts his pupil through are apparently designed wholly to showcase Van Damme's groin flexibility. In this way, Kickboxer is a little like Ong Bak (and I said a little), whereas the plot is lightweight, and the film appears to exist solely to introduce a new action icon to the populace, while also showing off said icon's athletic attributes.

Finally, there's the big brouhaha at the end. I remember in school my friends telling me about the hands dipped in resin and broken glass and thinking that it was so freaking awesome, and, yeah, the concept was cool...

Why This is a Blah Van Damme Movie
...but the execution was anti-climactic. For one, the shards of glass didn't really do too much damage to the fighters. And it's only a few minutes later that Van Damme rips off his glass-gloves and proceeds to knock the crap out of Tong Po (Michel Qissi), the menacing heavy with all the eye-liner, in slow-motion, culminating in a humdrum finale, made more disappointing because it was hyped up from the very beginning when Tong Po paralyzed Kurt's brother.

And really, the movie is kind of corny and hasn't aged well. The majority of the film deals with Kurt's training, in what is essentially an extended montage, cool if you dig Van Damme attacking a tree, shadow-boxing underwater and having his crotch stretched by a fearsome contraption. The supporting cast is largely ridiculous, from the cigar-chomping gun-toting cheeseball Winston (Haskell Anderson) to the charisma-free romantic interest to Kurt's brother Eric who looks like a wheelchair-bound A.C. Slater.

The Disc
The leanest offering of the set, Kickboxer receives a clean full-frame transfer and a 2.0 stereo audio treatment. Only trailers for the extras.

Universal Soldier

Plot Synopsis in Haiku
Dead, frozen soldiers
Revived to murder bad guys
Go nuts, sever ears

Why This is a Good Van Damme Movie
Ah, the days of Mario Kassar. When Carolco could go no wrong, they shoveled $20 million to new director Roland Emmerich who crafted this bigger-than-it-cost action epic, pitting two burgeoning action stars against each other. Van Damme was still a relative unknown at the time and most folks likely only recognized Dolph Lundgren as either Ivan Drago or He-Man.

But this vehicle proved to be a certifiable jumpstart to their career. The action was big, violent and explosion-ridden, like a good '90s R-rated action picture should be. It really is hard to believe the budget was that modest on this thing, as Emmerich was able to get his big-budget-blockbuster groove on with chump change.

Universal Soldier is loaded with action and chase scenes and bullet holes and ear carving, and ends with a sweet fight and a world-class final bad guy death and two awesome one-liners: "You're discharged!" and "Around."

Why This is a Blah Van Damme Movie
Look, it's pretty much a low-grade Terminator rip-off.

The Disc
This is the special edition, and boasts some decent specifications. The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks great and the 5.1 sound suitably pushes the bombast. A director's commentary, a making-of documentary, a feature on Van Damme and Lundgren and a wacky alternate ending make for some solid bonus materials.

Replicant

Plot Synopsis in Haiku
Jean-Claude plays two men,
One a jerk and one a clone,
Double Impact sucks

Why This is a Good Van Damme Movie
As the '90s ended, Van Damme's career began to ebb away, and his transition into the realm of straight-to-DVD star would begin. But somewhere amidst the twilight of his big screen success landed this sci-fi thriller, co-starring Michael Rooker (Cliffhanger) and Catherine Dent (The Shield). And, you know, I don't think it's half bad.

For the second time, Van Damme assumed two roles, one of which is a sleazy Eurotrash-looking baby murder named The Torch, and the other, a Rain Man-like clone simply known as "Replicant." A top-secret government initiative has cloned The Torch and enlisted Rooker's character, a hard-boiled cop who's dedicated his life to chasing the bastard, to use the Replicant as a means to find his prey.

The action is decent, mainly featuring Van Damme beating on himself using CGI wizardry, and the Muscles from Brussels brings his B+ game to the role; as the baddie, he's sinister and scummy and as the Replicant, he pulls of mental slowness combined with mortal combat lethality well.

Why This is a Blah Van Damme Movie
The back story foisted upon The Torch is contrived drivel. As good as the one-on-one confrontations are, I would have loved to see more variety in the action set pieces. Michael Rooker is fun guy to watch, but his character is kind of a schmuck, and his scenes in the Top Secret Government Laboratory are hilarious (he seems to fully grasp the idea of cloning a savant to track down a serial killer, no questions asked).

The Disc
Video (1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen) and audio (5.1) are both well done, giving the film a strong look and sound, Van Damme delivers an inspirational commentary -- he takes us back to his humble beginnings and ends with a "you can do anything you put your mind to" speech -- which highlights the batch of extras (deleted scenes, storyboards, bios, still gallery, trailer).

Review content copyright © 2007 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice, Kickboxer
Judgment: 75

Perp Profile, Kickboxer
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

Subtitles:
* English
* Spanish

Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks, Kickboxer
* Trailers

Scales of Justice, Universal Soldier
Judgment: 85

Perp Profile, Universal Soldier
Video Formats:
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

Subtitles:
* English
* Spanish

Running Time: 103 Minutes
Release Year: 1991
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks, Universal Soldier
* Director's Commentary
* Making-of Documentary
* "Tale of Two Titans" Feature
* Alternate Ending
* Trailer

Scales of Justice, Replicant
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile, Replicant
Video Formats:
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

Subtitles:
* Spanish

Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Rated R

Distinguishing Marks, Replicant
* Cast Commentary
* Deleted Scenes
* Storyboards
* Bios
* Photo Gallery
* Trailers

Accomplices
* IMDb: Kickboxer
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0097659/combined

* IMDb: Universal Soldier
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0105698/combined

* IMDb: Replicant
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0238552/combined