In short – I have never seen a bad Van Damme movie.
Ok, that’s a bit of a lie, I’ve seen loads of bad Van Damme movies, but I’ve never seen one I didn’t enjoy. Even his newer films are enjoyable – unlike Seagal’s, who I don’t even bother with anymore, as his latest films are so far removed from the pure glory of his 80s and 90s output that it’s just too darn depressing to think about. But Van Damme is consistent – at least in my eyes. Sure, “The Hard Corps” wasn’t as good as “Kickboxer”, and “Wake of Death” was nothing compared to “Bloodsport” – but I still chuffing-well enjoyed them.
So I already knew that I would like “Universal Soldier: Regeneration” before I’d even seen it. Besides, the original was fantastic, and hell, I even thought “The Return” was good (at least compared to the Matt Battaglia – starring TV movies). So from the get-go, I knew I was in for a happy-happy crashy-bangy good time in front of the television.
But I hadn’t anticipated just how excellent “Universal Soldier: Regeneration” would be. It was easily better than the second instalment, and while not quite up there with the original, it was still a damn good blast. It’s almost entirely down to the action sequences – as plot is rather thin on the ground – but they are so immense that they mask any flaws that may be present elsewhere.
This surplus of action was a smart move, as too much story and character development would have mired the film in the ‘this is a serious action film – it’s not just about explosions’ façade. The mask which seems to befall many action films nowadays by aiming to convince audiences that certain films have a deeper meaning beneath all the explosions and punches in the face. But sometimes that’s not what we want. Every now and again it’s nice to disengage the brain and watch someone kicking the crap out of someone else while loads of bullets fly overhead and cars explode and people explode and there’s a machine gun and people are swearing and oooh look there’s a roundhouse to the groin and that man is shooting everything and there’s another explosion etc etc.
Clearly someone involved in “Universal Soldier: Regeneration” realised this. So after stripping away every needless bit of expositional flesh, what remains is a slick, hard-hitting and relentless action skeleton with just enough character development and plot (something about Van Damme being brought back as a Unisol so that he can beat up a bad guy who has another Unisol working for him) to care about the characters before they start hitting each other. Which when they do start hitting each other, is worth the wait.
But speaking of ‘wait’, it’s a pretty large one to endure before Van Damme does anything. Which is the one of the two main problems with “Regeneration” – the first being that there’s not nearly enough Van Damme in it. The film doesn’t turn up the Van Damage until about an hour into the film (apart from one hilariously unnecessary fight scene early on which is never explained or referred to again), but when it comes – it’s off the scale.
Van Damme is most certainly back. Well, in your living room at least. After showing everyone he could act in “JCVD”, he’s once more firmly employed in the business of placing his foot at great velocity onto people’s backsides whilst simultaneously enquiring about their names. The final third of this film is almost entirely concerned with Van Damme’s assault on the bad guys and incorporates guns, martial arts, grappling, throwing people through windows, not smiling and completely destroying everything in sight. It’s what Van Damme does best.
However, I did mention that there was another problem hiding away in this film. And that six-foot problem is Dolph Lundgren. Or more specifically, the LOL is painfully evident in this film. Yes, this ‘Lack of Lundgren’ is another detrimental aspect, as you have to wait just as long to see him smash anything. I suppose it’s worth the wait when he does appear – as his face-off with Van Damme is spectacular – but I didn’t enjoy queuing to see him.
So even though the two best elements of this film don’t shift into gear until quite a long way in, the sheer force and excitement that is produced when we do see them more than makes up for this fact. As does the rest of the film’s action – mostly surrounding newcomers Mike Pyle and Andrei ‘The Pit-bull’ Arlovski, who certainly entered the film industry with quite the entrance. Both being UFC fighters themselves, their fight scenes have an authenticity that lends the tussles a more grounded, gritty feel that certainly makes for exhilarating viewing.
Aside from the hired-muscle, the behind the scenes work is way above average for a STV movie. The direction and cinematography lend the film a sheen that would easily hold up on the big screen (how good would that have been?) and it ends up looking just as flashy, glossy and big-budget as a lot of theatrical released action movies. Following in the footsteps of his father Peter Hyams (who’s directed some great movies – “Stay Tuned”, “Timecop”, “Sudden Death”); John Hyams looks set for a successful career in moviemaking if this effort is anything to go by. It’s clear he’s obviously had help from his father, who produced, edited and provided the cinematography for this, and is evidently a good mentor as for a first moderate-budget feature – “Universal Soldier: Regeneration” is quite the visual treat.
Overall, “Universal Soldier: Regenration” is Van Damme’s best action film since “The Quest”, and a must-see for fans of the “Universal Soldier” franchise, but also of Van Damme and Lundgren.
The R2 DVD from Optimum comes with a making of feature, a trailer, and an audio commentary with Dolph Lundgren and John Hyams.
“Universal Solder: Regeneration” roundhouse kicks its way onto R2 DVD April 5th, 2010 from Optimum Home Entertainment.
John Hyams (director) / Victor Ostrovsky (screenplay)
CAST: Jean-Claude Van Damme … Luc Deveraux
Dolph Lundgren … Andrew Scott
Andrei Arlovski … NGU
Mike Pyle … Captain Kevin Burke
Garry Cooper … Dr. Porter
Corey Johnson … Coby
Emily Joyce … Dr. Sandra Fleming
Kerry Shale … Dr. Colin