"Soldier," the latest Kurt Russell starring vehicle, is a sci-fi action film that can be best summed up in one sentence: At least it's better than "Escape From L.A." Then again, that's not saying much and one can only hope that most films can manage to pass that cinematic litmus test.
Even so, this clunker is just one more torpedo blow to the hull of the once mighty Warner Brothers, the studio that is still reeling from its other bombs released in the last year. Not trying to be serious like Kevin Costner's silly "The Postman," and not as utterly awful as "The Avengers," this picture has a few okay moments, but can only be considered as yet another potential disaster for the WB.
A hodgepodge of storylines, characters, and even music lifted from other, better made sci-fi films, this movie may please action fans once things get moving in the second half, but for the most part this is an unimaginative retreading of past cinematic successes.
Despite being penned by former Oscar nominee David Webb Peoples (who wrote "Unforgiven," "Twelve Monkeys" and the sci-fi classic "Blade Runner"), the picture is surprisingly bland for a sci-fi action film. After an effective, but not particularly imaginative opening where we see a montage of Todd's training over many years, we then get stuck, like that stoic character, in a small village setting last seen in "The Road Warrior," "Waterworld," or any number of post-apocalyptic settings.
It's not until the second half when the bad guys show up -- in the form of Caine and his fellow soldiers -- that the nonstop action begins. Unfortunately, any semblance of a plot -- other than Todd killing them -- is consequently jettisoned and the film runs on autopilot to its predictable conclusion.
All of which is surprising since the film is helmed by Paul Anderson who directed last year's highly stylized and suspenseful "Event Horizon." Despite this film's elaborate sets and production values, the village setting, the military "crawlers" and nearly everything else about it has that hokey, cheesy and decidedly fake look -- usually found in so many similarly plotted films -- that certainly doesn't help this picture and its lack of any genuine suspense.
The acting, of what little that actually occurs, is comparable to any "B" sci-fi film. Although Kurt Russell (the "Escape From New York and L.A." movies, "Breakdown") has pumped himself up for the role, he's not doing much more than playing the typical Schwarzenegger automaton bit -- sans the wisecracks, or for that matter, any substantial dialogue.
Despite the efforts to show there's some human left under the dehumanized conditioning (including a -- sarcasm alert -- "touching" shot of Russell crying in slow motion), there's little reason to empathize with the protag's predicament, particularly since he seems so handy at dispatching the "villains."
That in itself dredges up another problem. Although we know we're supposed to root for the good guy and despise the villains, the people Todd kills are simply soldiers conditioned to follow their orders (which is to kill the civilians), and beyond that we know absolutely zilch about any of them.
To make matters worse, beyond Jason Scott Lee -- who showed such promise in "Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story" and is completely wasted here -- the other soldiers show no signs of their superior genetics, and simply prove to be just a continuous fodder chain for Russell to off one by one (or in groups when trying to be more efficient).
The rest of the acting is mediocre at best, with Connie Nielsen ("The Devil's Advocate") limited by her flat character, and Gary Busey (an Oscar nominee a long time ago for "The Buddy Holly Story") who similarly can't do much with his limited character. When he finally seems like he's going to, the filmmakers abruptly remove him from the movie.
Overall, the film isn't much more than a combination of "Total Recall" (musclebound guy saves remote village on planet), "Aliens" (musclebound woman saves remote village on planet, with some flamethrowers thrown in, as is the score that's nearly been "copied" here), "The Road Warrior," "Waterworld" and -- well, you get the idea -- and consequently lacks any sense of originality.
Or, for that matter, much common sense or logic. While we understand why Todd must fight Caine in hand to hand combat at the end of the movie rather than simply shoot him like everyone else (because that's what the "action film" handbook dictates must be done), it comes across as nothing but sheer stupidity. Although other films (in particular, the "Lethal Weapon" ones) can somewhat get away with that, it doesn't work here.
Then there's the whole matter of why the "bad" soldiers -- with all of the planets in the galaxy from which to chose -- just so happen to decide to visit the one Todd's on (see above handbook under "convenient occurrences"). Or how Todd manages to stand amidst hurricane force winds and reel in a man who's being blown completely horizontal in the air (sure, he's strong, but c'mon). The list could go on and on, but I believe the point has been made.
Although the second half is easy enough to sit through for the ample amounts of sheer wanton action violence (if you're into that sort of thing), it clearly doesn't make up for the film's many deficiencies.
Without the proper buildup to give such violence the needed oomph (if it's going to be done, it might as well be done right) and featuring a near emotionless, two-dimensional protagonist you can never fully get behind, the film never has a chance to take off. All of which is fine because you probably wouldn't want this bomb flying overhead knowing it won't be long before it hits the ground with a thud. We give "Soldier" a 3 out of 10.