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Fantastic Fest Group Review: UNIVERSAL SOLDIER - DAY OF RECKONING 3D

Brian Collins, Evan Saathoff and Film Crit Hulk do a roundtable review of the latest UNIVERSAL SOLDIER movie. They didn't much like it.

Fantastic Fest Group Review: UNIVERSAL SOLDIER - DAY OF RECKONING 3D

While Badass group viewings were rare at FF, I was lucky enough to watch Universal Soldier: Day Of Reckoning 3D with prestigious Evan Saathoff (aka Sam Strange) and the elusive FILM CRIT HULK. This was the rare film at the festival that only played once (and on one screen) - I can't vouch for them, but I had to base a lot of my schedule around ensuring that I made this screening. Being that the last film went direct to video, I couldn't guarantee I'd ever get another chance to see it theatrically in its native 3D.

Was it worth the effort? Read on to find out, as I now present a complete transcription of the post-viewing chat between the three of us.

Brian: We're talking about Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning, AKA Universal Soldier 6, aka Universal Soldier 4 because there are two cable sequels people forget about, aka Universal Soldier 3 because it seems Regeneration was ignoring The Return.

Evan: OR, Universal Soldier 2 because this one also ignored the one that came before.

Brian: OR, Universal Soldier 1, because this one was also ignoring everything that I've seen in a Universal Soldier film.

HULK: IT'S LIKE FINAL FANTASY OF ACTION MOVIES.

Evan: Luc Deveraux - Chocobo.

Brian: And we also have Dolph coming back, and we can assume he's a clone because he was definitively killed in the previous film. No explanation given as to why he's back, or that they even had more clones.

Evan: What Universal Soldiers have you seen?

Brian: I've seen them all except for the two cable ones.

Evan: I've seen the original, Regeneration, and this one.

HULK: HULK SEEN THE FIRST ONE, THE ONE WITH GOLDBERG - THE RETURN? AND REGENERATION. AND THIS. AND HULK THINKS WE CAN ALL AGREE THAT REGENERATION WAS VERY ENTERTAINING.

Evan: All of my enthusiasm for this one is based on Regeneration. I loved it.

Brian: And we can agree Return was bad.

Evan: I never saw it! Was Dolph in Return?

Brian: No, just Van Damme.

HULK: REGENERATION VERY ENTERTAINING, VERY FUN. REGENERATION HAD GOOD SENSE OF WHAT IT WAS.

Brian: And this had the same director, John Hyams, and Dolph and Van Damme are back, which is good. I was hoping that they would be in this one more now that they've seemingly gotten "into" it again, but that's not what happened. I mean, Dolph is only in this one for about five minutes.

Evan: I think he's in Regeneration more than he is in this one. But in that one he has his head blown off. So just knowing that he was going to be in this one raises some questions...

Brian: Yeah, Van Damme's character lived, as he always does, and he was a good guy. But at the beginning of this he's seemingly a villain, killing Scott Adkins' family. Adkins is the actual hero of this one.

Evan: And I like Scott Adkins, but I don't like movies where he's the hero. He fights well, and he can be cool, but he's way too bland to be a main character.

Brian: And he's not the greatest actor, plus he has an unfortunate resemblance to Ben Affleck, who IS a great actor I think, and would be an awesome star of a Universal Soldier movie. Because that's the thing too, Regeneration did this as well - in that one the main character was the villain, Andrei Arlovski's character... if Van Damme is not our lead character, as a villain OR hero, then the guy that replaces him is someone that should be equally entertaining.

Evan: Impossible.

HULK: GOING INTO AN OVERALL DISTILLATION OF THIS ONE, HULK THINKS WAS THIS MOST TONALLY CONFUSED MOVIE HULK HAS EVER SEEN.

Evan: Hulk should watch Tyler Perry!

(everyone laughs)

Brian: We were in the very back row, and I know you're supposed to be quiet at the Alamo, but at one point I just had to turn to Evan and whisper "What the FUCK is happening?" and your response was "It's the Universal Soldier version of a Tyler Perry movie." I don't even know if we could properly explain it, even if we had hours...

HULK: IT DOESN'T MAKE SENSE. THAT THE IMPORTANT THING. IT NOT HIDING LOGIC. IT IS LITERALLY MOVIE THAT DOES NOT MAKE SENSE. IT USES NARRATIVE CUES AND IMAGERY AND STYLIZATION FOR NO PURPOSE AT ALL. THE MAJOR DIFFERENCE IN THIS IS THAT THERE IS HORROR AESTHETIC OVER FIRST HALF OF THE FILM. HYAMS KNOWS HOW TO COMPOSE AND DIRECT THIS THING ENOUGH TO KNOW 'Yes, this is what a horror movie feels like,' BUT THE EVENTS THAT ACTUALLY HAPPEN ON SCREEN REALLY HAVE NO PAIRING OR MEANING OR ARC, SO THAT WHEN IT DOES BREAK INTO ENTERTAINING FIGHT SCENE, YOU SAY "OH, THIS IS WHAT MOVIE SHOULD BE".

Evan: And Regeneration HAS that. I was telling Brian, I consider Regeneration to be a horror film, especially the first half. It's tense and gory enough to consider it.

Brian: If we go back to the first film, they ARE in fact zombies. They were killed in Vietnam, their bodies were regenerated through some sci-fi process, and now they have brain function, but they're essentially zombies.

Evan: And Hyams makes great use of the fact that they don't feel pain. Watching someone get shot and not react, it's kind of abject. The action scenes were really good, it's just what surrounded them...

Brian: The sporting good scene was terrific! And the car chase was good, went on a little long.

HULK: IT GOT REPETITIVE.

Evan: And then there's the whorehouse.

Brian: That was fine as a burst of violence but again you have no idea why it's happening, who any of these characters are... well Dolph's there, I guess.

Evan: But you don't know what he's doing or why he's there, or if he's a good guy or a bad guy, or what this place is...

Brian: Is it a whorehouse for Universal Soldiers?

Evan: That's it! They have their own whorehouse.

Brian: That's the thing, the entire film feels like the middle act of a very long film, where we haven't seen the first act so we have no idea what is going on, and then it ends just when things seem like it's about to kick into this massive showdown. And that would be weird for ANY movie, but it's even weirder when it's essentially part 6 of what is not a very complicated action movie series. I talked to Phil (Nobile Jr) after, who hasn't seen ANY of the movies, and he thought that was the reason he didn't understand what was going on through most of the movie. And I was like "No, we're just as confused - if not MORE SO because we have an idea of what a Universal Soldier movie should be, and you don't."

HULK: THAT'S THE THING, THERE ARE SO MANY WEIRD INFLUENCES: THERE ARE ELEMENTS OF BOURNE IN THIS, THE DIRECTOR MENTIONED CRONENBERG, AND YOU CAN SEE HE SO WANTED THIS TO BE APOCALYPSE NOW.

Evan: And he referred to Scott Adkins' character (John) as Philip Marlowe.

Brian: Van Damme is apparently Willard OR Kurtz, depending on the scene, making it more confusing. And Hyams didn't mention it, but there's some Memento in there too.

Evan: And we don't know by the end if Van Damme was a good guy or a bad guy.

HULK: WE DON'T KNOW WHAT ANY OF THESE PEOPLE WERE. NOW, HULK FOUND THE MOVIE VERY BORING. AND THE REASON IT FEELS BORING IS THAT THERE ISN'T A SINGLE MOMENT IN THE MOVIE WHERE YOU UNDERSTAND ANYONE'S CHARACTER. CHARACTER MOTIVATION IS THE KEY TO DRAMA: "THAT PERSON WANTS THIS." "THIS PERSON WANTS THAT." WATCHING THEM HAVE CONFLICT OVER THAT IS WHAT'S COMPELLING. THERE ISN'T A MOMENT WHERE YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT ANYONE WANTS OR WHY. HULK TEMPTED TO MAKE A SPOILER...

Evan: Any spoiler for this film is not a spoiler, but a promise.

HULK: OK, "SPOILER", WHEN ADKINS' DOUBLE SHOWS UP, AND IT HASN'T BEEN SET UP AT ALL. HE ALSO HAS REVEAL WHERE HE SEES HIMSELF DOING A THING, AND HULK THINK "HULK DON'T HAVE A REASON TO CARE ABOUT ANY OF THIS. THIS IS A REVEAL BUT YOU HAVEN'T BUILT UP ANY SENSE OF MYSTERY ABOUT ANY OF THESE THINGS."

Brian: At one point I had the thought, because Van Damme is ALSO in this movie even less than he was in Regeneration-

Evan: WAY less, for sure.

Brian: So I was wondering if Adkins' character was written for Van Damme, that John was originally Luc. It would almost work as a direct sequel to the original - he's back in the program somehow and they're wiping his memory, and then if he had the double it would be fun because Van Damme has done so many movies where he plays doubles anyway.

Evan: If they had done that, we wouldn't be having this conversation.

Brian: No, we'd be asking why Fantastic Fest only showed the movie once.

Evan: What they did was they said, “We're gonna tell a real story this time. And it's gonna be a mystery. And, as everyone knows, with mysteries you don't know the stuff. You learn it with the character. That didn't work. Instead we just consistently never knew anything for the whole movie. Which means when there was a reveal, it was completely without any context or meaning.

HULK: AND THAT'S THE THING ABOUT MYSTERIES. YOU NEED INCIDENTS TO PROPEL YOUR WANTING TO UNDERSTAND THAT MYSTERY, WHEN REALLY WE DIDN'T WANT TO UNDERSTAND THE MYSTERY, WE WANTED TO UNDERSTAND WHAT THE FUCK WAS GOING ON.

Evan: We wanted to understand the foundation.

HULK: RIGHT. THAT'S THE OTHER THING. BY THE END, HULK STILL HAD NO SENSE OF WHAT THE RULES FOR THIS WORLD WERE, OR ANY SENSE OF ANYTHING. IT WAS DOING THE “HORROR HOME INVASION” THING, AND THEN IT WAS DOING “THE MAN WITH NO MEMORY” THING. THE PROBLEM WITH “THE MAN WITH NO MEMORY” IS YOU CAN'T APPROACH THAT WHEN EVERYTHING ELSE DOESN'T MAKE SENSE EITHER.

Brian: That's what I was trying to get to with the Memento stuff. There's the scene where John goes to the shipping dock and does the Leonard Shelby thing of pretending he should know what's going on. Then he just talks to some guy with scars. I'm sorry, but if you show a character that's really mangled, especially in a sequel, and you make this big reveal out of it, it should be a character from an earlier movie.

HULK: OR A CHARACTER WE'VE SEEN BEFORE IN THIS FILM.

Brian: It meant nothing. It was like, “Oh, you wanna see the boss?” And it's just some guy with scars.

HULK: AND BY THAT POINT WE KIND OF ALREADY GOT THAT JOHN WAS BAD ANYWAY. AND ALSO, THE WHOLE SHIPMENT THING ULTIMATELY HAD NO BEARING ON THE STORY AT ALL.

Evan: Yeah, at one point I realized we're spending a lot of time on this fucking shipping unit. Going up river. So, where's the bad guy? He's up river!

Brian: Because that's where the guy was in Apocalypse Now.

HULK: THAT'S RIGHT. HYAMS WAS JUST TAKING THINGS AND PUTTING THEM IN.

Evan: Wait a minute. Jean Claude Van Damme wasn't up river. Adkins’ double was up river right? Who the fuck was up river?

HULK: NO HE WAS IN THE CABIN.

Evan: Where was the cabin?

HULK: REMEMBER WHEN THE DOUBLE WAS WITH THE GIRL IN THE CABIN, TELLING HER “I was trying to remember your eyes...”

Evan: And he had all those drawings of eyes on the walls? And he's in love with her, but then he tries to kill her, and I don't understand.

Brian: And she's not very concerned. John’s double is the one that she had been with, right? Then he gets blown away, and she doesn't seem to care much either way.

HULK: AND SHE NEVER COMES BACK.

Evan: That's right, she leaves the movie.

HULK: AND THEN, THE WHOLE GOVERNMENT THING. HULK WAS ACTUALLY VERY CONFUSED BY WHAT THE GOVERNMENT UNDERSTOOD OR KNEW OR WANTED. HULK ALSO LOVE HOW HE'S LEARNING HE'S THIS HORRIBLE PERSON AND HE HAS ALL THESE IMPLANTED MEMORIES, AND THEN HE FIGHTS FOR THOSE SHITTY MEMORIES.

Evan: When they're drilling into his head I was surprised. They're like “We're gonna get rid of these memories,” and he's like, “Yeah, get rid of it!” No hero would ever say that. He's kind of a wuss. And then, they're drilling into his head--

HULK: DID YOU NOTICE THE GEOGRAPHY OF THAT SCENE? WHERE ARE THEY DRILLING?

Evan: But then he stands up like Frankenstein and starts killing people, and I'm like, wait a minute: This guy has a hole in his skull, right? His brains are gonna slosh out of there. But they never did. He's totally okay with this big, quarter-sized hole in his noggin.

Brian: Let's talk about the action, because you could say any one of these movies, especially a direct to video action film, one in 3-D by the way –

HULK: THE MOST UNNECESSARY 3-D OF ALL TIME.

Evan: Amazingly stupid 3-D.

Brian: But you might say, "who cares about the story" as long as the action's good. But the action is not quite good. And I think you can really boil it down to, if you've seen the last film, Regeneration, there's this amazing one-take action shot where Van Damme infiltrates this village. There are explosions; there are tons of guys on both sides; he's going in and out of buildings. It's really complicated and awesome. They tried to do that again this time by having Scott Adkins kind of walk down these tunnels fighting and shooting one or two guys at a time. And then there's a really obvious cut every time. So you're bringing back probably the most famous moment of the last film, and seemingly you'd want to try to top it. But what you're really doing is being terrible at it, and just making us wish we could just watch Regeneration again.

HULK: PEOPLE WERE TALKING ABOUT THAT AS BEING THE BEST FIGHT. BUT NO, THE SPORTING GOOD STORE FIGHT IS MUCH BETTER. IT HAS ENERGY. IT HAS PROPULSION.

Brian: And it was a bottom to another action scene.

Evan: And it was where Scott Adkins' character had like a wake up moment and decided to be a badass all the sudden.

HULK: IT TAKES AN HOUR AND A HALF FOR HIM TO BE A BADASS.

Brian: And there's a scene where Adkins goes to a strip club and some big dude gets in his face. One of the great scenes of the original 1992 movie was where Van Damme goes to a diner and he beats the shit out of everybody in sight for not really much of a reason. It's an entertaining, awesome fight, and he's learning how to eat food again and stuff. It's odd; it's engaging. And here's this great opportunity to top that scene because Adkins is also a great fighter. Instead, the scene – like many of them – ends without any real explanation what he was doing there in the first place.

Evan: They throw him out of the club.

Brian: Yeah, they throw him out. And he actually just leaves instead of kicking everyone's ass.

Evan: He's a Wuss. I would say, I liked the fight scene at the end because I really just like the way John Hyams does action. I could watch it forever. If I were comparing it, I'd have to say the similar scene in Regeneration is way better, but I was so hungry for that by the time we got to it, that I was on Cloud 9. I will say the fight with him and Van Damme is really good, too. Inexplicably, Van Damme has his face painted white and black. I don't understand that, but I like the weirdness of it. So, I'm a little higher on the fight scenes. I just wish there were more. They were the only parts of the movie that were any good at all.

HULK: AND YOU WERE SAYING YOU WERE KINDER TO THE IDENTITY OF THE MOVIE. YOU LIKE THE FACT THAT THIS CRAZY WEIRD TONE GOING THROUGH THIS MOVIE ACTUALLY EXISTS.

Evan: Well, I'm the guy who's always into that stuff. I love that every decision in this movie was fucked up. This is not like another entry into the series by a new director. This is the guy who made the last one, and he's ignored his last film. You have Dolph Lundgren, and you have Jean Claude Van Damme. You can get them for your movie, but then you only have them in maybe five minutes of it.

Brian: And never interacting.

Evan: And never really doing anything. I think it's amazing that Dolph Ludgren and Jean Claude Van Damme late in their careers have become so fucking awesome to see. Dolph Lundgren has become the jester. Jean Claude Van Damme has become the dramatist.

Brian: In between these, John Hyams made another movie called Dragon Eyes, also shot in Louisiana. Van Damme is in it for five minutes. And he doesn't fight anyone. He trains Cung Le, who is the hero. Van Damme is like a spiritual guide to him, and it's him who does all the fighting while Van Damme just shows up in flashbacks as some mystical prisoner.  He has glasses, so there's something. Anyway, that movie wasn't great, but it had really good action and the story was simple. It did its job.

Evan: Well I was really excited about this movie, as a sequel to Regeneration. I wanted more of that. Instead I got something that is so fucked that it enters my territory, which is really fucked up. It's just hilariously inept, and I can't think my way through it. So what did we decide? Universal Soldier as a franchise is like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise?

Brian: I was thinking closer to like, you know how the Halloween series tried to do the anthology thing?  If that had taken off, and other franchises had taken that lead, Universal Soldier might be the action version of that. But it's just weirder because they have the same people. There's no continuity at all. If you think there's some it's most likely accidental. Andrei Arlovski is back from Regeneration but he has a different name, and a beard.

Evan: Well, what they did with this one is they established – this is the funniest part – that Universal Soldiers can now regenerate. This is not called Universal Soldier: Regeneration, but this is the one where they actually regenerate.

Brian: I'd say that sums this movie up perfectly.

Evan: So now, Dolph Lundgren and Jean Claude Van Damme can come along and – especially Lundgren – get killed in really horrific ways each movie and come back for the next one no problem.

HULK: AND GIVEN THE FACT THAT THEY'RE CHANGING THEM ALL CONSTANTLY, I'M VERY EXCITED FOR THE MUSICAL VERSION THAT WE'RE GOING TO GET NEXT TIME. COMPLETE WITH A NOIR ANGLE I'M GUESSING.

Brian: So Fantastic Fest 2013, we're all front row for Universal Soldier 7, whatever that may be.

Evan: I agree.

HULK: IT'S GOING TO KEEP GOING. SO BE PREPARED.
 

Brian Collins's photo About the Author: Brian, aka BC, has been watching horror movies since the age of 6, and twenty years later decided to put it to good use, both as a writer for Bloody-Disgusting as well as launching his own site, Horror Movie A Day, which Roger Ebert once read and misunderstood the points that were being made.
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