Universal Soldier: The Return

Directed by Mic Rodgers
Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Heidi Schanz, Michael Jai White, Bill Goldberg.
MPAA Rating: R for nonstop strong violence, and for language and nudity.

Review by Matt Heffernan
August 21, 1999

Universal Soldier: The Return was not screened for critics, for obvious reasons. So, you won't see many reviews for it. I believe that such negligence shows a lack of dedication among my colleagues. I see every film that I can in order to inform you, the internet citizen. Also, I couldn't pass up a chance to rip apart the film that gets, not surprisingly, my first zero-star review.

Jean Claude "The Muscles from Brussels" Van Damme reprises his role as Luc Deveraux from the original Universal Soldier. The military has created a program in which they take dead soldiers, turn them into cyborgs, and put them back into active duty as Universal Soldiers. Luc was one of them in the previous film, having been killed in Vietnam (OK, if he was killed in Vietnam, how come they were able to do this with pre-1975 technology? Oh wait, this must be the other Vietnam War that takes place in the future). Through some sort of reversal process (which may or may not have involved a blue fairy) he has become human again, working for the research plant that makes these cyborgs.

The government has decided to cut the budget for this project, even at the protest of Luc, who says that the problems with the old "UniSols" aren't present in the newer, stronger ones. The central computer at the plant, SETH, learns about this, and goes into self-preservation mode (sound familiar?). He commands the UniSols to take over the plant, forcing the military to take action against them. With the help of a hacker that was fired from the plant, SETH gets the body of Michael Jai White and becomes the ultimate UniSol. Luc, with the help of plucky reporter Erin Young (Heidi Schanz), must destroy SETH before he becomes invincible.

This atrocious rip-off of 2001 and Terminator 2 is my early vote for worst film of the year. Van Damme is, without a doubt, the worst actor in the history of action films (and that's saying a lot). Not a single mangled-English word that comes out of his mouth is believable. He makes Schwarzenegger look like Olivier. It doesn't help that he has an extremely weak supporting cast here, with the exception of White, who is merely mediocre. Bill Goldberg plays Romeo, the biggest UniSol. He should really stick to professional wrestling. I'm assuming that Schanz must have been a model or a Playboy Playmate or something, because I don't think she ever won anybody over in an audition.

This is the directorial debut of Mic Rodgers, who has been a successful stunt coordinator for years (Braveheart, Titanic, and all four Lethal Weapon movies). He definitely knows how to orchestrate action scenes, having also been a second unit director. But he is clueless when it comes to anything else, so he tries to fill every scene with guns, kicking, and explosions. The action is incredibly mindless. They even have a gratuitous strip bar scene, where a fight breaks out after Luc uses their computer. I have never before seen such a shameless combination of superfluous sex and violence.

There was some controversy over what the title of this film should have been. Films titled Universal Soldier II and III were made for cable last year, starring Matt Battaglia. But since this one stars Van Damme, and picks up only from the original, it was almost called II, as well. I have even seen it referred to as III and IV. At any rate, it didn't deserve to be released in theaters. If you have anything resembling a mind, do not see this poor excuse for a film. Otherwise, feel free. This movie was made for you.

For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Universal Soldier: The Return (1999)

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Universal Soldier: The Return -- VHS
Universal Soldier: The Return -- DVD
Universal Soldier: The Return: Soundtrack (import) -- Compact Disc
Universal Soldier: The Return: Original Score -- Compact Disc

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Review © 1999 Matt Heffernan