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Ever wondered what would happen if someone decided to let, say Rob Zombie direct a “Universal Soldier” movie? Well wonder no more, kids — it would look something like “Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning”, an action film that seems to have been made under the pretenses of a horror movie. I guess I should have known director John Hyams was up to something when I saw his last trailer for the film, but I thought I might have just been reading too much into a trailer. Turns out, that trailer is very much indicative of the movie as a whole. If you’re expecting something along the lines of previous “Universal Soldier” movies, even Hyams’ own “Regeneration” 3 years earlier, you’re in for a very, very rude awakening.
“Abandon hope all ye who enter here.”
Opening with a lengthy first-person sequence right out of a “Max Payne” videogame, “Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning” finds our hero John (Scott Adkins) — just John, no last name; hell, even his birthday cake just has “John” on it — being assaulted in his home, his wife and adorable daughter murdered before his eyes by Luc Devereaux (Jean-Claude Van Damme). The film only gets stranger from there. Apparently unconcern with what’s come before it, “Day of Reckoning” finds Devreaux and Andrew Scott (Adkins’ “The Expendables 2″ running mate Dolph Lundgren) acting as if they’ve never been — or seen — a “Universal Soldier” movie before. Hell, I only saw the first and last movie in the franchise, but even I know “Day of Reckoning” is totally pissing on continuity here, which will no doubt anger longtime UniSol movie fans.
The film picks up with John nine months later, with the poor fellow finally waking up from a long coma, the result of an intense beating by way of a crowbar. The Feds wants answers, and so does John, who has no idea why Devereaux has gone all villain (remember when Devereaux was the good guy in all the previous “Universal Soldier” movies?) and targeted him, but he’s gonna find out. Soon, bodies are dropping everywhere and John has to dig deeper into memories of an ultra violent life that he doesn’t remember. What is this Universal Soldier thing that keeps coming up? And what is Andrew Scott and Luc Devereaux up to? And why does John Hyams keep shooting me in the eyes with seizure-inducing strobe light effects?
At almost two hours (90 minutes, if you play the film’s many slow-motion scenes at normal speed), “Day of Reckoning” feels unnecessarily bloated. Those expecting a fun and entertaining martial arts/action movie will be disappointed when confronted with something that looks more like a faux arthouse version of a slasher film, complete with gratuitous sex and nudity and buckets and buckets of blood. “Day of Reckoning” is shot in a grungy style and flushed with saturated colors that make everything look and feel just a little bit dirtier than they have to be. Basically, Hyams and company seem to have made a concerted effort to squeeze every single ounce of fun from the viewing experience. Van Damme and Lundgren have what amount to extended cameos, playing leaders of a band of Universal Soldiers hiding out in the jungle, “Apocalypse Now”-style, and bent on overthrowing the Government. Or some such. Honestly, I was never entirely sure what it was the crazy UniSols were always shining their weapons (and biceps) for in their underground bungalow.
At least Hyams doesn’t skimp on the action, so if that’s what you’re after, you’re going to leave a very happy boy. “Day of Reckoning” is filled with super bloody and violent encounters, and I’m not exaggerating the least bit when I say that Scott Adkins ends up covered in a coat of blood from head to toe by the Third Act. Hyams has saved the best for last, staging a fantastic, continuous close-quarter gun battle between Adkins and the legion of UniSols in his path. By the time Adkins confronts Lundgren and Van Damme (wearing face paint for some strange, unexplained reason), you’re already out of breath from the long, winding gunfight. The final 20 or so minutes of “Day of Reckoning” is one big brutal bloodbath, and it’s great, bloody stuff, the kind of brilliant, inspired action choreography that almost makes you forgive the film’s many questionable choices. Almost.
Make no mistake: the star of “Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning” is Scott Adkins, who is onscreen for almost the entire running time, with Lundgren and Van Damme showing up intermittently to remind us that Yes, they really are in this movie. Hyams shares co-writing credit on the screenplay with Doug Magnuson and Jon Greenhalgh, so if you need to blame someone for the film’s unnecessarily convoluted plotting, those are your guys right there. I can’t stress it enough: “Day of Reckoning” is not the kind of “Universal Soldier” (or indeed, action movie starring Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, or Adkins) that you were probably expecting. Think of it as an action movie directed by Rob Zombie coming off “Halloween”. With buckets and buckets of blood.
“Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning” is currently available on VOD and opens theatrically next month.
John Hyams (director) / John Hyams, Doug Magnuson, Jon Greenhalgh (screenplay)
CAST: Jean-Claude Van Damme … Luc Deveraux
Dolph Lundgren … Andrew Scott
Scott Adkins … John
Kristopher Van Varenberg … Miles
Mariah Bonner … Sarah