Sunday, March 7, 2010

Universal Soldier

The checkout is an awesome place to discover bargain DVDs. Well, in this case, bargain Blu-Rays. I was originally going to purchase Iron Man for $30. While heading up to the register, I saw The Hunt for Red October for $20. Grabbed that, too. While waiting to pay, though, I saw two movies for $15 each that I just couldn’t pass up, and put Iron Man back on the shelf. The Rundown, starring the Rock, which is an excellent action/comedy flick also featuring Sean William Scott, Rosario Dawson, and Christopher Walkin. It’s rather mindless, but in a good way.

The last one I found was an amazing discovery. I have trouble believing it was even ported over to Blu-ray. An early 90s action flick starring everyone’s favourite incomprehensible foreign action star... No, not Arnold, the other one. No, Stallone’s American. Yes! Jean Claude Van Damme! The movie? Universal Soldier!

First, I just have to remark this is a darn clean transfer. For a 1992 movie this is amazingly free of dirt, grain, artifacting, etc. However, in my next breath I have to condemn the audio. Normally, I have the volume on my TV set at 18, and it goes as high as 50. At 18, I can usually hear everything perfectly clearly. In order to be able to hear *most* of the dialogue, I had to jack the volume up to 35, and there was still a lot that was too quiet for me to make out clearly. But let’s be honest. You don’t watch a movie starring Jean Claude Van Damme for the dialogue. It’s not like you can understand him most of the time anyway. No, what you watch a JCVD movie for is the action. So, the question before us is, does Universal Soldier deliver the goods? Heck yeah!

The plot of this movie is little more than a framework for the action, mixed with a little bit of cheap controversy grab, probably. I’ll just give a brief overview of the plot, rather than the blow-by-blow I did for Stay Alive, since the plot is secondary to the action, and you should *really* watch this movie.

Why do I say the plot is a controversy grab? Because it starts out in Vietnam, during the war. The only reason to have set it during then, rather than any random conflict closer in time to the “present” that the majority of the film takes place in. JCVD plays Luc Deveraux, a soldier at the end of his rotation who just wants to go home—yeah, that old clich√©. Unfortunately, his superior officer snaps and starts wiping out a friendly village, claiming everyone is a traitor. JCVD is kinda screwed though, because in addition to having lost his mind, his superior is Dolph Lundgren. And as coldly calculating and chilling as he was as the Russian boxer in Rocky IV, he’s even better here. His character goes from psychotic to emotionless to psychotic, which isn’t the most taxing character arc, granted, but he sells every moment of it. Oh, also, Jerry Orbach is in the movie for about five minutes. Rest in peace, Lenny, you’re still awesome.

Back to the plot. Dolph goes crazy, JCVD tries to stop him, they both die. OR DO THEY?!?!?! ...Yeah, they’re dead. Movie’s over! Well, no, movie’s not over. Some army guys show up and commandeer all the bodies. Then TWENTY YEARS LATER, Dolph and JCVD are deployed as “Universal Soldiers” to rescue some hostages. Okay, I can roll with regenerating dead people to use as soldiers, but wouldn’t it be easier to get some fresher bodies? Why are they using 20 year old bodies? Did they just have that many corpses lying around? Worse yet, the army’s memory-erasing serum doesn’t work very well, and both JCVD and Dolph eventually remember who they are. Sloppy work guys. You’d think in 20 years they’d have worked out the kinks in that.  Apparently not. Hilarity and misunderstandings ensue, and it kinda rips off Short Circuit. JCVD makes an excellent Number Five. And he’s almost as life-like.

From thereon out, shit blows up, people get shot, vehicles get destroyed, and it all finishes with JCVD and Dolph having a kick-ass knock-down, drag-out fight. It’s probably one of the better fights in JCVD’s filmography, but I lay most of the credit for that at Dolph’s feet. The guy’s big enough that the beatings handed out through the movie are believable. The dude’s a goliath.

As good as this movie is, though, there is a scene I want to call out as nonsensical. Some cops show up. Well, a lot. Maybe about 60, in several dozen cop cars. With lights flashing. But because they’re behind a bus, the trained soldier is taken completely by surprise. Oh, and the lady who gets off the bus that’s in the way is ALSO taken by surprise. Despite having had to face that direction to get off the bus. But just as you’re not watching this movie for the dialogue, you’re not watching it for the logic and intelligent characters. You’re watching it for the action, and between Jean Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren there is a serious amount of ass-kicking. Go, watch, and revel.

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