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UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: REGENERATION
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, Andrei “The Pitbull” Arlovski, Mike Pyle, Garry Cooper, Corey Johnson, Emily Joyce, Kerry Shale
Director: John Hyams
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Sony
Features: See Review
Length: 97 Minutes
Release Date: February 2, 2010

I’m going back.”

Film **1/2

1992’s Universal Soldier remains one of the best Jean-Claude Van Damme action vehicles to date. That may not sound like much, but believe it or not there was a time when the “muscles from Brussels” was making some damn good action flicks. That movie, Sudden Death and Hard Target have long been favorites of mine which I still re-watch every so often.

Universal Soldier, which actually marked the American directorial debut of Roland Emmerich, was something of a big deal at the time. It paired Van Damme up with Swedish sensation Dolph “I must break you” Lundgren, and the movie definitely delivered on the promise of the two kicking the absolute crap out of each other, which it did brilliantly. It was also a decently plotted movie (more so than it had any right to be) and illustrates that Roland Emmerich is actually a solid action director, even if he’s since gotten a little carried away with destroying the planet.

You may be asking yourself why I’m taking up so much of this review with factoids from the first Universal Soldier movie. Well, I’ve been meaning to post a review for it ever since the Special Edition DVD release six years ago and felt the need to make up for never writing it. Also, I felt it necessary to begin with fond memories of a truly badass action movie that has since evolved into one of the most boneheaded franchises of all time.

In fact, it’s something of a miracle that I can look at the first movie with a good amount of respect given the horrendous pattern of the sequels which followed. There were actually two straight to video sequels, neither of which had any of the stars from the first movie or, from what I could tell, any relation to it whatsoever. I think one of them even starred Burt Reynolds in what was unquestionably a sad period for him.

Cut to 1999, where it looked like there would be hope for this franchise after all in the form of Universal Soldier: The Return, and by hope I mean the fact that at least Van Damme was returning. And boy, it was one of the biggest cinematic turds of all time. Budget wise, it felt like it should’ve been sent straight to the video shelves.

And it would’ve been right at home going straight to video since this sequel, once again, seems to have no recollection of the events that took place in the first movie. How else do you explain the fact that Van Damme’s character, who was in a robotic state for much of the first movie, is now all of sudden acting like a normal human without any explanation of how this miracle took place??? And the fact that wrestler Bill Goldberg was given TOO much screen time as one of the baddies further illustrates that no one behind or in front of the camera gave two universal craps about the movie they were making.

It was also the last we would see of Van Damme on the big screen as he began his foray into straight to video garbage. For me, this was unfortunate because though many panned his acting chops, I always found Van Damme to be a likable presence in the movies. However, he resurfaced in a big way in the superbly clever JCVD, in which he proved to all the naysayers that he did possess some real acting chops and wasn’t planning on going the way of Steven Seagal anytime soon.

Which now brings us to the movie I’m actually here to review, Universal Soldier: Regeneration. At first, I was actually a little stunned that this wasn’t getting a theatrical release, since both Van Damme AND Lundgren are returning. As I watched the movie, I found myself less stunned, since it turns out that neither has a great deal of screen time.

However, I must say that I was extremely stunned by the fact that the movie wasn’t as horrible as its direct-to-DVD status would promise. In fact, it’s even pretty damn awesome at points, the biggest one being another climatic face off between Van Damme and Lundgren. The problem is those parts of awesomeness are few and far between, and the story just isn’t that interesting.

The reason Van Damme and Lundgren don’t have that much screen time is because the movie is actually a showcase for UFC fighter Andrei “The Pit Bull” Arlovski, who is somewhat intimidating as the deadly NGU (Next Generation UniSol). The story concerns the kidnapping of the children of an Eastern European Prime Minister by a terrorist group. They are being held up in the remains of Chernobyl, and the terrorists will detonate the site, killing the children and releasing a deadly radioactive virus, if their demands are not met.

As a means of executing a swift rescue mission, the government restores the Universal Soldier program, which takes the bodies of dead soldiers and reprograms them as efficient killing machines. The only problem is the new NGU, deadlier than any UniSol before it, has been created by the terrorists and is being used to destroy any forces that stand in their way. The only hope lies in retired UniSol Luc Devereaux (Van Damme), one of the very first created.

But Luc is about to discover a nasty surprise. His old nemesis; Andrew Scott (Lundgren) has been cloned and upgraded to a Next Generation status by the enemy. In other words, he’ll have to take on two instead of one.

There is a lot to respect about Regeneration. The first and foremost being the fact that, for once, we have a sequel that is a direct link to the original movie, meaning Van Damme’s character hasn’t entirely regained full human behavior yet, thus giving the middle finger to Universal Soldier: The Return, which is great in my book! And there is quite a lot of gruesome violence and bone crunching physical combat to spare, which is definitely keeping in the spirit of the first movie.

However, I couldn’t help but feel as though the entire rematch between Van Damme and Lundgren felt a little tacked on. The resurrection of Lundgren’s character seems completely spontaneous and gimmicky. Van Damme has still got it in him as an effective action star, but Lundgren seems half asleep in his line deliveries, which is strange considering he was so memorably menacing and packed with one liners in the original movie.

So I do give Universal Soldier: Regeneration points going the extra mile in terms of quality for a direct to video sequel. It’s the best thing to happen to the nearly buried franchise. But the story is pretty routine and it never once feels like there’s much at stake, which is very much the opposite of the original movie.

BONUS: Director John Hyams is the son of director Peter Hyams, who directed Van Damme in Sudden Death and Timecop, and who served as cinematographer on this movie.

Video ***

This is a very fine Blu-ray presentation from Sony. The movie was shot on the Red One HD which, despite several instances of motion blurring, provides an overall dynamic picture quality in the 1080p. The set pieces used in the movie don’t really allow for much in the way of amazing depth or image detail, but for what it captures it looks pretty superb. Colors are especially well presented.

Audio ****

The DTS HD mix does a damn fine job of making you forget the fact that this is a direct to video release, because the end result is a rock ‘em, sock ‘em sound assault. The endless fighting and gun play, and I truly mean ENDLESS, works every inch of the surround sound channels, and is balanced out well with dialogue and music playback. Very much the closest I’ve ever been to being in a combat zone, I must say.

Features **

Included is a commentary with Dolph Lundgren and director John Hyams, as well as behind the scenes featurette titled “Behind the Lines” and Bonus Previews for additional Sony releases.

Summary:

Universal Soldier: Regeneration delivers as much as it can for a direct to video release, and it’s always great to see Van Damme back in action glory. It’s still miles away from the awesomeness of the original 1992 movie, but overall hardcore action fans shouldn’t be disappointed too much.

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