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Case Number 16028

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Universal Soldier: The Return (Blu-Ray)

Sony // 1999 // 82 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // March 30th, 2009

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All Rise...

Judge David Johnson uses Unisol to bring out the shine in his kitchen countertops.

Editor's Note

Our review of Universal Soldier: The Return, published January 3rd, 2000, is also available.

The Charge

Prepare to become obsolete.

Opening Statement

Jena-Claude Van Damme's putrid superman sequel receives a half-baked Blu-ray release.

Facts of the Case

Years after the original Universal Soldier cluster-F, Luc Deveraux (Van Damme) has taken a job in the resurgent Unisol program, which, if you didn't know, takes dead soldiers, reanimates them, infuses them with super strength and hooks them up to a central computer named Seth (Michael Jai White). The tests and experiments are moving along swimmingly and perhaps some day soon America will be able to use these shambling, gun-toting corpses on the battlefield.

The army blows into town to pull the plug on the project. That pisses off Seth, who promptly takes over the facility and instructs the Unisols to go haywire. It's up to Luc and an incredibly irritating television reporter to find a way to defeat Seth and his minions before they wipe out humanity and build a new population of universal soldiers using tubes and wires from the local Radio Shack or something.

The Evidence

Crappy movie and a far cry from the '80s-style red-meat awesomeness that was the original Universal Soldier. Van Damme's follow-up is a corny, low-budget affair that pursues a disjointed, derivative story and intertwines it with haphazard action staging and excruciating dialogue.

But, hey, Bill Goldberg's in this! Capitalizing on the guy's wrestling fame, the filmmakers drafted him to play one of the primary heavies. His gimmick: he just won't die, and is aided considerably in that effort from Luc's willingness to let him lie helpless under the rear wheels of a truck when he could have stuffed a grenade in his mouth or stabbed him in the face. Like any movie featuring the built-in audience draw of a well-known wrestler, Goldberg is allowed to execute his "special moves," which might have appealed to fans ten years ago but would likely be only meant with yawning disinterest by today's crop of bodyslam aficionados. As an added bonus, he's given the corniest lines in the movie.

Van Damme gives it his all, apparently unaware of the level of horribleness that this movie rises to, and as is his trademarks: a) performs several flying, spinning jumpkicks and b) takes a series of monumental ass-whoopings. Michael Jai White snarls a lot and flexes his pectorals with verve. Then there's the heroine and Luc's sidekick, the plucky reporter whose main focus is "getting the story" even while her life is in constant danger and people are suffering massive gun shot trauma. Plus, she's abrasive and it's never fully explained why army brass let her hang around such a volatile war zone.

There are a lot of those questions that are ignored because it would be just too much trouble concocting a coherent script that answers them. Who had the bright idea to link all the soldiers and the facility's infrastructure to a giant computer brain that is apparently so insecure it will unleash the apocalypse because the head scientist is having an anxiety attack? And what's with the eight hour window before the computer's memory wipe? If the wipe needs to happen that means there's a worst-case scenario involving rebellion and techno-sentience and wholesale slaughter why not make the window, say ten minutes? How come Luc runs away from the army, putting himself and his daughter at risk? And why does that seedy strip bar have a blazing dial-up connection?

If you desire to embark on an intellectual voyage to address these plot points, then Sony hopes you'll be willing to pony up the pesos for its high-def treatment of the film. Unfortunately, this release does absolutely nothing for me. The 1.85:1 transfer is soft and represents only the slightest upgrade in visual fidelity. The Lionsgate treatment of Universal Soldier utterly shames this. The audio fares better, spinning out an active Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix that pounds low during the multitude of explosions and engages the surrounds with solid effects work. Extras are a disappointing rehash of standard-def materials: one of the cheesiest making-of featurettes I've seen, a segment on Michael Jai White's workout routine and a retrospective mash-up of Van Damme's movie career.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

Well, there's, uh…and this one part was…nah, this movie sucks.

Closing Statement

Universal Soldier: The Return is third-rate, sci-fi action rubbish and an under-performing Blu-ray does nothing to improve its standing.

The Verdict

Guilty. This one should have stayed dead.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 75
Audio: 85
Extras: 70
Acting: 50
Story: 50
Judgment: 58

Perp Profile

Studio: Sony
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
Audio Formats:
• TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
• TrueHD 5.1 Surround (French)
• TrueHD 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
• English
• Arabic
• Dutch
• French
• Portuguese
• Spanish
Running Time: 82 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Action
• Bad
• Blu-ray
• Science Fiction

Distinguishing Marks

• Featurettes


• IMb

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