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(1999) (Jean-Claude Van Damme, Michael Jai White) (R)

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Action/Adventure: A former super soldier must contend with a small platoon of even stronger and more invincible soldiers who've been unleashed by a computer that's embodied itself in one of the warriors.
Luc Deveraux (JEAN-CLAUDE VAN DAMME) a former Universal Soldier (Unisol) -- a combatant resurrected from the dead who's turned into a super fighting machine for top-secret military plans -- and his partner, Maggie (KIANA TOM), are Defense Department consultants who help test and train the next generation of Universal Soldiers. A breed of military warriors who are stronger, faster and more resilient to injury than mere humans, the soldiers are controlled by a supercomputer named SETH (voice of MICHAEL JAI WHITE), a Self-Evolving Thought Helix.

When SETH learns that the Universal Soldier program is to be shut down due to budget cuts, he takes matters into his own "hands" to protect himself. Killing those who try to shut off his power and unleashing his small platoon of super soldiers, including the musclebound Romeo (BILL GOLDBERG), SETH spares Deveraux, but only because he has the secret code to deactivate a built-in program that will shut down the supercomputer in a matter of hours.

As Deveraux battles the soldiers and tries to figure out how to stop SETH -- who's now transferred his intelligence into an even more advanced warrior with the help of Squid (BRENT HINKLEY), a rogue cyberpunk -- he faces several challenges.

Not only must he contend with an ambitious reporter, Erin (HEIDI SCHANZ) who won't leave his side, but also General Radford (DANIEL VON BARGEN) who wants to take extreme measures to quell this uprising, and the fact that SETH has kidnaped his young and injured daughter, Hilary (KARIS PAIGE BRYANT), and is holding her hostage.

If they're fans of Van Damme and his style of movies, or of professional wrestler Goldberg who weighs in as a heavy, they just might.
For nonstop strong violence, and for language and nudity.
  • JEAN-CLAUDE VAN DAMME plays a former Universal Soldier who battles and tries to figure out how to stop the more advanced soldiers. Beyond all of the fighting, he cusses a bit (with brief, but heavy profanity), and does try to protect his daughter and others from harm.
  • MICHAEL JAI WHITE plays the supercomputer who decides to kill all of the humans after learning that his program is scheduled to be shut down.
  • HEIDI SCHANZ plays an eager but obnoxious reporter who briefly uses strong profanity and puts her career ahead of her safety.
  • BILL GOLDBERG plays one of the advanced soldiers who kills many people and often fights with Luc.
  • BRENT HINKLEY plays a profanity spewing cyberpunk who helps SETH manifest himself as a superhuman.


    OUR TAKE: 1 out of 10
    As a writer, a thesaurus is a wonderful tool. Not only does it allow one many choices of how to more colorfully describe something, but it also often introduces the author and his/her subsequent readers to some new words. For instance, just today I discovered that my thesaurus lists more than one hundred synonyms for the adjective "bad."

    Although I didn't find any really funky obscure ones, looking through them and just trying to pick out the best was about the only fun thing about reviewing Jean-Claude Van Damme's latest film, "Universal Soldier: The Return." The sequel to -- yes, you guessed it, 1992's "Universal Soldier" -- this film is so bad it's ripe for the picking.

    As such, the subsequent problem was then trying to sort through the myriad of choices. Should I say that the film was "irredeemable" or "awful?" Perhaps "unsatisfactory" would be good, but then again "pathetic" seems a bit more descriptive. Regardless of the word selection, it all boils down to the fact that movie is a bomb.

    While I don't recall a great deal from the original film beyond the muscles from Brussels and Dolph Lundgren beating the stuffing out of each other, it apparently became something of an international success and thus begot this sequel. Following the advice of Bob "The Price is Right" Barker, I think we can all agree that it's time to take this franchise to the vet for a little neutering to prevent critics like myself -- and the general moviegoing public -- from having to sit through films like this one or worrying that they're out there repopulating the world with more cinematic offspring.

    Of course, fans of Van Damme and his films such as "Double Impact" and "Sudden Death" won't care squat about any such criticisms. After all, the prerequisite material -- plenty of kicking, punching, wooden performances, inane dialogue and being thrown through glass walls -- is present and accounted for. That said, the sheer hyperkinetic onscreen activity and laughable thespian/filmmaking efforts are about the only thing the film has going for it to prevent audiences from dozing off.

    Unfortunately, and unlike many Asian martial arts films, the material isn't so far over the top in its ludicrousness that it actually becomes fun and/or funny to watch in a campy way. Of course, one can't forget Van Damme's performance. While action star Arnold Schwarzenegger is no Laurence Olivier, at least he knows it and no longer makes a pretense about trying to be a good actor.

    Jean-Claude, on the other hand, seems to think he can and should be a serious actor, but it simply just doesn't work. Beyond the fact that the dead wife scenario has previously occurred in his films ("Timecop"), such "missing you" moments here don't connect with the audience and are obviously filler for the downtime between action sequences.

    As soon as Van Damme comes to a similar realization and decides to make a film that either a) plays off his woodenness in a self-deprecating way or b) forgets any dramatic moments and just lets loose with nonstop action, he and everyone subjected to sitting through one of his films will be much better off.

    To be fair, Van Damme shouldn't be singled out for this stinker by himself. An equal amount of blame should be leveled at screenwriters William Malone (a TV writer for "Tales From the Crypt" and "Freddy's Nightmares") and John Fasano ("Judge Dredd," "Another 48 Hours"), along with director Mic Rodgers (making his feature debut).

    Not only do they unimaginatively rip off material from other pictures such as the "Terminator" films (done many times) and even "2001: A Space Odyssey," but they also present only enough of a bare bones plot upon which to hang the action sequences. There's also plenty of horrible dialogue (Erin: "I'm not getting killed until I get my story" and SETH: "When I was a machine, I yearned to be a man. Now I'm better than both"), and more than enough implausibilities perhaps to become a listed synonym for that word.

    My personal favorite involved Luc needing access to a computer. So where does he take Erin to log on? A strip club, of course, since, as he states, such places always have computers (for the porn sites). Of course, in reality we simply realize that up until that time he -- and we -- hadn't encountered any topless women. As we all know, such characters in such a setting are clearly prerequisites for a film like this.

    Then there's the TV reporter -- annoyingly played by Heidi Schanz (who had bits parts in "Seven" and "Virtuosity") who, along with her cameraman, is allowed to walk into the core operational room of this project and then stand there taping away as if they were just covering the local county fair. Of course, and since she's pretty -- another required element -- no one, including Jean-Claude, has the guts to remove her from the premises. Since when did the military believe in unencumbered freedom of the press?

    Beyond Van Damme who plays yet just another variation of his standard kickboxing character, the rest of the performances are similarly unremarkable. While both Michael Jai White ("Spawn," "Ringmaster") and professional wrestler Bill Goldberg are quite the visual examples of spending too much time in the gym, they can't do much of anything with their menacing, two-dimensional characters other than, well, looking menacing and getting into many fights.

    While Goldberg has been given some Schwarzenegger-like one-liners to spout, they're not particularly funny. That's also the case with Brent Anderson's role as a wild cyberpunk that's presumably supposed to be the film's comic relief. Trust us, it's not. The rest of the roles -- including the military General and the endangered daughter -- are just throwaway ones and easily could have been played by anyone without any effect -- good on bad -- on the film's outcome.

    If you like thoughtless and unimaginatively choreographed violence (with a heavy rock soundtrack blaring during such scenes) -- which is about all this film manages to offer -- you might something "redeemable" here. Otherwise, and unless you're a fan of Van Damme or like being cinematically tortured, we'd recommend you skip this film and thus dissuade Hollywood from making any more like this one. Hardly a surprise, we give "Universal Soldier: The Return" a 1 out of 10.

    The following is a quick look at the content found in this R-rated action/adventure film. Violence occurs throughout the film and includes people being threatened, wounded or killed by gunfire, electrocution, hand to hand combat, explosions and other means. A few instances of that are a bit bloody, although a surgery scene is much more graphic and gory. The rest of the violence consists of fights with many punches and kicks being thrown -- all of which some kids may want to imitate.

    Profanity is heavy due to at least 9 uses of the "f" word, while other profanities and a few colorful phrases also occur. A scene set in a strip club shows many bare-breasted women in thong-like bottoms that show most of their bare butts. Some brief sexually related material is also present.

    Beyond all of that, some brief drinking and even briefer references to a dead mother/wife, the rest of the film's categories are relatively void of any major objectionable content. Since teenage males (and possibly some preteens) may just want to see this film, we suggest that you take a closer look at the detailed content listings should you still be concerned about the film's appropriateness for them or anyone in your home.

    Of special note for those concerned with the bright flashing of lights on the screen, a moment of that occurs during a gun battle sequence.

  • People have drinks in a strip club and Erin drinks some Scotch.
  • Romeo has some blood on his chest from where he was shot and stabbed by Luc and another soldier has some blood on the side of his head.
  • From a distance we see a large needle going into a soldier's neck.
  • In a brief flashback, we see a person executed at point blank range and see blood and what looks like brain matter blast out from the back of their head.
  • We see Romeo's shirtless, but bloody chest that gets "regenerated" and quickly heals before our eyes.
  • As a soldier gets an implant in his head, we see a laser cut a square hole into the top of his bald head. A device then removes the square block of bloody flesh and skull and we briefly see the inside of his head (but it's out of focus). The device then returns that block of flesh and skull and the laser then seals the wound.
  • A person who's been shot is a little bloody.
  • We see several instances of people -- regular soldiers and super ones -- fully engulfed in flames.
  • Romeo's chest is somewhat bloody after he's been attacked.
  • SETH and his platoon of soldiers have both for threatening and/or killing many people.
  • One of the soldiers comments on Maggie having "nice t*ts." and someone refers to a woman as a "babe."
  • Erin is a bothersome reporter who puts her job before her safety and won't leave Luc's side since he's her only story.
  • Needing transportation and acting like a valet, Luc and Erin ride off on a strip club patron's motorcycle.
  • Scenes listed under "Violence" may also be tense to some viewers, but beyond being action- based violence, most of them are not intentionally suspenseful in the traditional sense of the word.
  • Luc and Erin try to hide from Romeo as he searches for them and later Luc fights with SETH while trying to save his daughter with us knowing the building's about to be blown up.
  • Machine guns/Handguns/Advanced military weapons/Knives/Various explosives: Used to threaten, wound, or kill various people. See "Violence" for details.
  • Phrases: "What the..." "Piss them off," "Babe" (for a woman), "Cut the crap" and "Idiot."
  • Some kids may want to imitate all of the fighting that occurs (including punches, kicks and other violence, such as Romeo being shot and/or on fire and not being hurt from that). Luc also leaves one of his defeated opponents in an industrial dryer where that soldier spins around out of control.
  • On a computer screen, SETH shows a drawing of a person's hand "giving the finger."
  • Needing transportation and acting like a valet, Luc and Erin ride off on a strip club patron's motorcycle.
  • A person is suddenly shot.
  • A heavy amount of action-oriented, suspenseful music plays throughout the film.
  • None.
  • At least 9 "f" words, 8 "s" words (with another being silently mouthed), 1 slang term for male genitals ("pr*cks"), 1 for breasts ("t*ts"), 9 hells, 3 damns, 1 crap, 1 S.O.B., and 1 use each of "Jesus," "Sweet Jesus Christ" and "Oh my God" as exclamations.
  • Romeo tears open Maggie's shirt revealing some cleavage as we see her in her bra. Later, one of the soldiers comments on Maggie having "nice t*ts."
  • We see a roomful of super soldiers with the men only wearing tightfitting shorts, like the women who also wear cleavage revealing sports bra-like tops.
  • As Erin changes clothes, we briefly see her in her cleavage revealing bra.
  • Luc and Erin stop at a strip club to use their computer and we see many bare-breasted women dancing in thong bottoms that show most of their bare butts. Luc then goes into a room to get onto the computer (saying "I'll be quick" with a woman replying, "They all are") and we then hear snippets of the women in there doing their phone sex routine ("Can you give me more?"). Meanwhile, a cleavage revealing woman then comes on to Erin and tries to get her to dance with her. We then see more instances of those bare-breasted women in thong bottoms.
  • We briefly see some photos/posters of scantily clad women in Squid's place.
  • None.
  • Hilary tells Luc that she's been thinking about her mom and asks Luc why she had to die. After a brief discussion, both admit to still missing her.
  • The amount of violence in the film and the fact that no one (except such super soldiers) could tolerate such beatings, shootings and being engulfed in flames (as occurs here).
  • Some soldiers chase Luc and Maggie on jet skis and fire machine guns and explosives at them while Maggie shoots a handgun back at them. During this, an airboat runs over Luc and Maggie's jet ski just as they jump off and after a pursuer has wiped out on the water. Luc then fights with another soldier who tries to attack him with a knife. Luc sends him overboard while Maggie shoots another pursuer several times.
  • Once on land, Luc and Romeo get into a fight where Luc punches Romeo and then hits him on the head with something else. Luc then shoots him with a weapon that blows Romeo off his feet and sends him sailing backwards through the woods. When that doesn't work, Luc throws a knife that sticks in Romeo's chest (which he then pulls out). Other soldiers then appear and knock Luc to the ground where they hold his head underwater.
  • In a brief flashback, we see a person executed at point blank range and see blood and what looks like brain matter blast out from the back of their head. We then also see Luc being shot and wounded/killed.
  • A malfunctioning soldier attacks several technicians (throwing one through a window) until Luc comes to the rescue and strikes this soldier. They exchange blows and the soldier puts Luc into a bear hug and starts to squeeze him to death. Luc then repeatedly hits this soldier's head until he's finally defeated.
  • Romeo grabs and then raises a technician from the floor by his neck.
  • While still a computer, SETH electrocutes a worker trying to shut off the power, and then sends out an electrical charge that kills two more people.
  • A soldier shoots a guard with a machine gun.
  • Romeo shoots three guards dead with a machine gun. Maggie then kicks that gun from his hands, but he slams her into a wall. As he tries to shoot Hilary, Maggie jumps on his back and he goes careening down a stairwell until his head smashes through a concrete wall.
  • Romeo shoots several more people dead and then fires explosives into a wall as he tries to get to Luc and Erin. Once inside, he fires many shots from this machine gun at them.
  • Four Universal Soldiers approach Radford and his military forces. The regular military then opens fire on these soldiers and they fall to the ground as if dead. They suddenly get up, however, and open fire on the regular soldiers with machine guns and explosives and kill many people (and blow up trucks, etc...) in the process.
  • Luc and Romeo fight with many punches and kicks thrown. After throwing Luc across a room, Romeo comes at him with a knife. Erin then fires some sort of weapon and catches Romeo on fire. After he extinguishes himself, Romeo fires more shots at them.
  • Romeo jumps from a roof trying to land on a truck, but Luc drives it forward causing the soldier to crash onto the pavement. Luc then backs up this large truck overtop Romeo, seemingly crushing him. Being the super soldier that he is, however, he's not badly hurt from this.
  • The regular military opens fire on Luc and Erin who hide behind a concrete barrier.
  • A soldier fires a bazooka (or something similar) and blows up a power station.
  • Super soldiers attack Luc and his team and after a great deal of gunfire (and people being caught on fire with another being electrocuted), Luc appears to be the only one left alive.
  • Luc head-butts a guard at a strip club to get into their computer room. Later, that guard has brought along two of his buddies and Luc fights and easily dispatches all three. He then encounters more resistance, however, and fights with more people as a general barroom (or in this case, strip club) brawl breaks out (where Erin joins in by hitting someone over the head with a bottle).
  • Luc roughs up Squid trying to get info out of him, but SETH then grabs Squid and breaks his neck and throws his body across the room. Luc then tries to attack SETH, but the super soldier hits him several times and knocks him to the floor.
  • We see a transmitted video clip showing a person being killed (no blood).
  • A building explodes.
  • Luc fights more soldiers at a hospital with punches and kicks (leaving one in an industrial dryer). He then fights the other who then tries to strangle him until Luc zaps his head with a defibrillator.
  • SETH knocks a hospital guard unconscious with a kick and then sets a hospital room on fire as he kidnaps Hilary.
  • Romeo and Luc fight again with the latter eventually kicking the former out a window where he falls several stories before crashing into a car.
  • Romeo fights several large men with punches and kicks and breaks one man's back over his knee. As he then dives toward Luc in an elevator, his head crashes into the wall.
  • Luc hits a super soldier over the head and then shoots him several times with an advanced weapon. He then fires another shot that knocks another soldier to the floor.
  • After Luc shoots SETH, the super soldier grabs Luc and throws him around a room, including through some glass panels/walls. He also throws a large canister of compressed gas at him that explodes behind him. More hand to hand combat then follows. SETH then tries to get Luc with a laser, but Luc turns it around and nicks SETH with it.
  • Luc kicks a soldier who's been frozen solid, sending frozen pieces of him everywhere.
  • Luc fights another soldier with many punches and kicks being thrown. The soldier then picks up Luc by the neck.
  • A soldier shoots another soldier while Erin punches General Radford.
  • A huge explosion destroys a building and presumably kills all of those inside it.

  • Reviewed August 20, 1999 / Posted August 20, 1999

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