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Universal Soldier (1992)
Director: Roland Emmerich

review by Rob Marshall

Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren both play American GIs killed in Vietnam (one's from Brussels, the other one's Swedish - but you know it makes sense, right?), then bought back to life as zombie super-troopers pumped-up with steroids and reprogrammed from blank-slate deathliness to defend the USA against terrorists and such like in no-win, final option scenarios. Ally Walker (making her feature debut here, she went on to star in TV crime series, Profiler) plays a nosy TV reporter who helps the hero recover his lost memories and find his family. Along the way, lots of people get killed, buildings are blown to smithereens, and despite all the hi-tech weaponry paraded by these special forces commandos, the inevitable confrontation between psycho killer bad guy and introspective hero ends in a farmyard fist fight.
   Roland Emmerich does the business with his first Hollywood movie. This mixing of shoot 'em up action clichés, martial arts pacing, and stereotype-driven comedy makes Universal Soldier his best feature to date - possibly, anyway. It has a great opening scene as a couple of guys from the crack strike team abseil, Australian-style (that's walking forward, face-first) down the sheer wall of the Hoover Dam. This, along with many other great stunts were supervised by veteran arranger, Vic Armstrong (who more recently worked on Bond movie, The World Is Not Enough), while the explosions and battles were the responsibility of physical effects magician, Kit West (Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Dune, etc). Having such an experienced crew stands Emmerich in good stead, and the action scenes are certainly top notch.
   Fighting aside, Van Damme exhibits a winning sense of self-depreciatory humour in Universal Soldier, which contrasts markedly with Lundgren's corny one-liners. Though it's clear both stars were having fun with their indestructible superhuman roles. The SF elements are generally run-of-the-mill, and obviously designed to cash in on The Terminator, Aliens, and time-warp fantasies like the same year's Freejack. On the whole, Universal Soldier is a successful genre thriller with enough going for it to overcome audience disinterest prompted by its complete lack of originality, and so is worth revisiting on DVD.
previously published online, VideoVista #28
Universal Soldier
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