Genre: Action Running Time: 1 hr. 54 min.
Release Date: October 25th, 2012 MPAA Rating: R
Director: John Hyams Actors: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, Scott Adkins, Mariah Bonner, Andrei Arlovski, David Jensen, Audrey P. Scott, Craig Walker, Andrew Sikking
he opening scene is shot entirely like a first-person video game, with a character waking up to witness a trio of masked intruders beat him into near unconsciousness before executing his wife and young daughter. The main murderer is Luc Deveraux (Jean-Claude Van Damme), a highly skilled serviceman who is now classified as a deserter. The victim, who happens to survive the incident, is John (Scott Adkins). He awakes nine months later to give a statement to the FBI, though his lengthy coma leads to some memory loss.
Oddly, the film proceeds to maintain regular first-person perspective shots, using the camera as John’s eyes. As the story continues, John slowly regains some of his memories (which double as flashbacks for the audience to gather further information on the protagonist), especially when he returns to his house – a crime scene that triggers some startling images. A short time later, a plumber – a government hitman – is called in to assassinate everyone at a brothel.
Curiously, the film is very slow to give any answers. It’s the fourth entry in the “Universal Soldier” series, but it’s in no hurry to elaborate on the current situation, or to fill viewers in on past episodes. Perhaps this fits with the characters, who suffer from shattered memories, along with the notions of brainwashing and psychological programming. It’s something of a mystery – both in the story and in the filmmaking techniques – as tiny clues and tidbits of information are revealed with little concern for short attention spans. In one scene, perfectly indicative of the film’s disinterest with traditional storytelling, John is about to hear an explanation from stripper Fantasia (Mariah Bonner) when, all of a sudden, a cyborg-like soldier bursts into the room, swinging an axe around like a flail. This, of course, delays revelations for quite some time.
Brutal bloodshed crops up constantly, along with moments of graphic nudity and mutilated corpses, all while John struggles to uncover the secrets of the Universal Soldier experiments. It would seem that writer/director John Hyams believes that typical action movie components can be substituted for strobing lights and flashes of violence; even the fight sequences focus on disturbing bloodletting rather than exciting choreography. However, Hyams is wrong. Gruesomeness rarely mixes well with adventure, while overwrought editing merely hides actual martial arts or hand-to-hand combat skills (at least it’s marginally amusing when characters keep impaling one another with knives, only to alternatingly yank them out to reuse in subsequent battles). And in this kind of a picture, in which the action definitely needs to support and ferry the plot and set changes, it’s greatly disappointing to find the stunts and showdowns unnecessarily augmented by special effects – or soaked in meaningless savagery.
An hour into “Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning,” it’s still no clearer exactly what is supposed to be going on. Even when a car chase ensues, it’s laden with repetition and a strange lack of suspense. The only thing that becomes apparent is that the nameless plumber (Andrei Arlovski) is something like a Terminator, stopping at nothing to hunt down and destroy John. Coincidentally, throughout the whole film, which runs entirely too long, Van Damme exhibits a perpetual look of boredom – which will surely be shared by audiences.
– Mike Massie