Universal Soldier (1992)
Universal Soldier (1992)

Genre: Action and Sci-Fi Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 42 min.

Release Date: July 10th, 1992 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Roland Emmerich Actors: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, Ally Walker, Ed O’Ross, Jerry Orbach, Leon Rippy, Tico Wells, Ralf Moeller

 


 

I

n Vietnam (1969), Private Luc Deveraux’s (Jean-Claude Van Damme) platoon is attacked and he’s immersed in grenade-bombarded disarray. When he stumbles upon his sergeant, Andrew Scott (Dolph Lundgren), murdering unarmed and innocent villagers and wearing their severed ears around his neck, he attempts to negotiate with the hopelessly paranoid, mentally unhinged, superior officer. This act results in both of them trading bullets until they’re cold and dead in the blood-soaked mud.

The two corpses are collected and preserved and, 25 years later, transported deep into the Nevada desert, where an advanced military program has mastered reanimating the deceased for use as cyborg-like super-soldiers, devoid of emotion and pain, and capable of superhuman speed, strength, cellular restoration, and combat skills. When terrorists take over the Hoover Dam and capture numerous hostages, a team of the elite “Universal Soldiers,” or Uni-Sols, are sent in to neutralize the gunmen and rescue the tourist prisoners. It becomes their third successful mission, with no casualties or injuries.

But at the end of the operation, trooper GR44 (also Van Damme) stops responding, seemingly being affected by the momentary recollection of past memories. The head of the program, Colonel Perry (Ed O’Ross), doesn’t want to take any of his subjects off the roster, insisting that extra doses of the serum that stimulates the soldiers’ brains should be injected to compensate for the lapse of control. When CNA news network correspondent Veronica Roberts (Ally Walker), who covered the terrorist story, sneaks onto the military base to snoop around, her actions awaken further remembrances in the regenerated GR44. It also encourages the recalling of partner GR13’s (also Lundgren) subconscious, who begins to resume his dispassionate murdering of everyone he deems a traitor.

Prominent musical cues inform unintelligent audiences that certain appearances and actions are of particular importance (for instance, when Van Damme and Lundgren make an obvious reappearance after having died). Similarly idiotic conversations take place between supporting characters, filling in details that are once again either lacking in subtlety or included solely to build backstory around the program. Nerdy, unsure Doctor Woodward (Leon Rippy) and chirpy assistant technician Garth (Tico Wells) are two such additives who provoke extraneous discussions. They also proceed to make many mistakes when interacting with the renegade Scott, hatching overcomplicated schemes to stymie the monster’s obsessive plotting instead of simply letting him run out of juice.

Fortunately, the characters all behave seriously, frequently stifling any hint of empathy – but their dialogue and actions scream of silliness. The fight sequences are intense, explosive, and clearly the focus of this modern day sci-fi adventure, though Walker provides plenty of comic-relief commentary through a disingenuous attitude that isn’t as funny as it is abrasively out of place. “How can you be so damn calm?” screeches Veronica, unable to evince believable panic while participating in nonstop chaotic chases. For the sake of additional humor, Deveraux has apparently forgotten how to eat or use money, and doesn’t remember what all of his body parts are used for.

The science-fiction elements aren’t terribly original but are prevalent enough to be amusing. Like “Demolition Man” a year later, specific behaviors or mindsets are retained before transformation, and return to put the protagonist at a decided disadvantage. This makes Van Damme a more enjoyably sympathetic hero, while Lundgren is eccentrically villainous. Noticeable similarities to “The Terminator” and Total Recall” also pop up (such as Scott’s unstoppable determination, unabashed male nudity, and a tracking device excising scene). And if there’s supposed to be commentary on the suppression of free will, war’s effects on the human mind, or wild and unethical methods employed by extremist military leaders, it’s lost to the incredibly violent dueling and Van Damme’s signature roundhouse kicks.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10