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Say what you will about the confused narrative, blatant borrowings and wildly over-the-top gory violence of Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning — at least you can see what the hell is going on.
This installment of the long-running series that moviegoers have probably long forgotten — most of the sequels to the 1992 original went straight to video — features enough bone-crunching fight sequences to satisfy the most demanding action film fan. But what’s truly refreshing is that director John Hyams, who helmed the last entry, 2009’s Universal Soldier: Regeneration, has filmed them in lengthy, often single (or single-seeming takes), keeping the camera at a sufficient distance so that we can actually see more than just flashing body parts. In this era of hyper-kinetic editing and blurry montages, they’re a refreshing throwback.
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Although franchise veterans Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren have prominent supporting roles, this installment centers on newcomer Scott Adkins as military man John, who in the film’s nightmarish, POV-shot opening scene is forced to watch the murder of his wife and child. The culprit is Devereaux (Van-Damme), now the leader of a group of renegade Universal Soldiers, or “Unisols,” intent on overthrowing the government that programmed them into killing machines.
After waking up from a nine-month coma as a result of the experience, John seeks revenge on his family’s murderer while being pursued by a burly UniSol dubbed “The Plumber” (Andrei Arlovski), with whom he frequently engages in intense, hand-to-hand combat in such target audience-friendly environs as a strip club.
It’s a lot of fun spotting the allusions in this hyper-stylized effort, from the blinking effects borrowed from Gaspar Noe to the bald Van Damme’s resemblance to Marlon Brando’s Col. Kurtz in Apocalypse Now to the plot elements recalling Blade Runner and various films by David Cronenberg and David Lynch. While the proceedings aren’t entirely free of self indulgence (the nearly two-hour running time is another example), they at least display an imagination uncommon in this sort of B-movie. But viewers be warned: the film’s extensive use of strobe lighting is enough to bring on seizures.
Ultimately, it’s all an excuse for the fight scenes anyway, and they’re doozies. From Adkins’ epic tussle with Arlovski in a sporting-goods store to the climactic showdowns with Van Damme and Lundgren, Hyams has filmed the highly choreographed, ultra-violent mayhem to superb effect. You may not come away breathlessly anticipating another Universal Soldier movie, but you will be anxious to see what this talented filmmaker will do next.
Production: Foresight Unlimited, Signature Entertainment, BMP
Cast: Scott Adkins, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, Andrei Arlovski, Mariah Bonner, Rus Blackwell
Director: John Hyams
Screenwriters: John Hyams, Doug Magnuson, Jon Greenhalgh
Producers: Craig Baumgarten, Moshe Diament, Allen Shapiro
Executive producers: Mark Damon, Steven A. Frankel, James Gibb, Bobby Ranghelov, Courtney Solomon, Gregory M. Walker
Director of photography: Yaron Levy.
Editors: Andrew Drazek, John Hyams.
Production designer: Nate Jones.
Costume designer: Kim Martinez.
Composer: Michael Krassner.
Rated R, 113 min.
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