Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, Andrei Arlovski, Mike Pyle, Garry Cooper, Emily Joyce
Directed by John Hyams
Distributed by Sony Pictures
So much of Universal Soldier: Regeneration takes place inside a dilapidated factory and the action consists so much more of kickfighting and mixed martial arts than the gunfire and explosions of the previous Universal Soldier films that they could have just as easily changed the genetically re-engineered zombie soldiers into androids and called it Cyborg: Regeneration.
Regeneration – more like the old generation if you ask me. Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren are both back for this direct-to-DVD sequel to the 1992 Roland Emmerich original, and boy, do they look old. If you saw JCVD, then you already know how world weary Van Damme’s face looks. Lundgren may be showing his age as well, but he still looks almost ten years younger than Van Damme despite being three years older. Van Damme already returned to the franchise once before in a 1999 sequel that effectively killed his big screen career for a decade, but for Lundgren to return, it really would have to be regeneration since the last we saw of his character were bits and pieces flying out of the hay harvester he got shredded in.
In the director’s chair this time is the son of veteran filmmaker Peter Hyams, who, in addition to 2010 and The Relic, also directed Van Damme in Timecop and Sudden Death. John Hyams’ most notable directorial work up to this point was the compelling 2002 mixed martial arts documentary The Smashing Machine about the rise and fall of ultimate fighter Mark Kerr. The younger Hyams could be the reason Universal Soldier: Regeneration boasts a heavy MMA influence.
Guerrilla fighters from a Russian breakaway republic have seized what remains of the Chernobyl nuclear plant and are holding the Russian President’s two children hostage as they threaten to blast the concrete chamber encasing the reactor that famously melted down in 1986; doing so would let loose a radioactive cloud described as being “100 times that of Hiroshima”. Their demand is the release of 110 captive political prisoners. I don’t know about you, but I think if someone has kidnapped a world leader’s kids and intends to unleash a nuclear holocaust unless his demands are met, the release of 100 imprisoned allies seems like small potatoes to me.
This is not lost on the rogue Universal Soldier scientist they’ve hired to hook them up with a UniSol for back-up firepower. Tension will boil over between the rebel leader and the scientist, who clearly dreams of one day commanding his own army of super soldiers to possibly conquer the world with, as to whether or not a more financially rewarding ransom should be issued. I really wish they had done more with this crazy nerdy scientist because his motivations were far more interesting than that of generic Russian nogoodnicks that cannot hit a target even at point-blank range.
That UniSol is played by former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei “The Pit Bull” Arlovski. You can count on a single hand the amount of dialogue Arlovski has. For the best, since he makes for a surprisingly imposing foe just silently annihilating adversaries, usually using what becomes in this film the trademark Universal Soldier finishing tactic: holding the opponent down on the ground with one hand while repeatedly punching their face until its a bloody pulp with the other. Arlovski is a new generation UniSol, or “NGU” for short. Allegedly an upgrade; I couldn’t really tell the difference other than the NGU possessing a nifty retractable wristblade that the alien drug dealer from I Come in Peace would consider to die for.
After the first attempt to infiltrate the power plant by Russian-American coalition forces and four Universal Soldiers results in a bigger failure than Universal Soldier: The Return, the commanders decide the solution is to reactivate original UniSol Luc Deveraux (Van Damme). This makes little sense for a variety of reasons, not the least of which being that we just watched the NGU single-handedly – literally in two instances – terminate the quartet of UniSols sent in with the commando raid, so what makes them think one lone Universal Soldier that is of the now obsolete first generation model stands a chance?
Luc Deveraux currently resides in Switzerland, where a brilliant psychologist is working to reintegrate him into society. Comparisons are made to his treatment being like retraining a fight dog to live as a house pet. I can only assume Universal Soldier: Regeneration has chosen to completely ignore the events of Universal Soldier: The Return (probably for best) because, as you may recall, it was explained that Luc Deveraux had somehow been cured of death, had completely readjusted to his new life, and even had a young daughter. That made no sense in that film, and what we are told here makes no sense in this film. Nor does it make any sense that being injected with a special serum is all it will take to instantly revert Deveraux back into his super soldier fighting shape and mindset.
The science of the Universal Soldier films has never made any sense, and here it’s less than ever. None of it bothered me all that much because I have long since accepted that looking for plausibility in a Universal Soldier flick is as futile as trying to find a virgin in Michael Bay’s hot tub. You just accept the illogic and hope the action delivers. It does.
The first hour makes for an above average action flick of the direct-to-DVD variety, though still one dragged down by formulaic plotting, characters, and dialogue typical of such action b-movies shot in Eastern Block countries starring over-the-hill action heroes. About an hour in Van Damme finally gets reactivated and jumps right into the best staged action sequence he has been a part of in ages, laying waste to every Golan-Globus quality foot soldier in his way, only pausing long enough to switch from a machine gun to a side arm and then just cutting loose with a survival knife. Barely a single kick or punch thrown, a no-nonsense expression on his no longer pretty boy face, not saying a single word the entire time or even letting out so much as grunt, this was the most badass I think I have ever seen Jean-Claude Van Damme look in any of his films. From then on the quality of the action steps up, and there is almost nothing but solid b-level action until the credits roll.
If you’re tuning in for Dolph Lundgren, be advised he doesn’t even make an appearance until around the 50-minute mark and doesn’t stick around very long. In what very much feels like a tacked-on excuse to shoehorn Lundgren into the picture, the rogue scientist resurrects the undead clone of insane UniSol Andrew Scott. Unfortunately, Scott is even more insane and out of control than before. The way things were going, I was halfway expecting Van Damme and Lundgren to join forces to eliminate the NGU. Instead Lundgren and Van Damme engage in one hell of a sumo rematch during which the two of them burst through more walls than Kool-Aid Man has in his entire pitchman career. Their demolition derby ends with such a dynamic kill that it really should have been saved for the very end. Not to say the 15-minute showdown between Van Damme and Arlovski disappoints; just that the Arlovski goes out with a bang where as Lundgren goes out with a “Holy crap! Rewind that!”
3 out of 5
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