With so many “Universal Soldier” movies currently floating around out there, it can be a little confusing trying to get a handle on where all the various entries fit into the overall franchise. Just to be clear, John Hyams’ “Universal Soldier: Regeneration” is a direct sequel to Roland Emmerich’s 1992 movie. The film ignores the two “Universal Soldier” direct-to-DVD movies that have come before it, as well as 1999’s theatrical sequel “Universal Soldier: The Return”, which returned (no pun intended) Jean-Claude Van Damme in his original role. In “Regeneration”, Van Damme is once again back as Luc Deveraux, as is fellow original castmember Dolph Lundgren, here once again playing Deveraux’s undead (but very amusing) foil, Andrew Scott.
“Regeneration” is written by Victor Ostrovsky and directed by John Hyams, who in a bit of trivia is the son of Peter Hyams, a Hollywood mainstay that has directed Van Damme in two movies, “Timecop” and “Sudden Death”, two of the action star’s better movies. As the sequel opens, the Russian President’s daughter and son are abducted in a daring daylight raid by a band of Russian rebels led by an unnamed brute who, as it turns out, is the latest generation of the Universal Soldier program. The not-so super secret Government program has since been disbanded, we learn, but a rogue professor (Kerry Shale) thinks he sure would like the chance to create his own personal army of UniSol soldiers. To this end, he has teamed up with a Russian rebel commander who is using the skeletal remnants of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor as his base of operations, threatening to blow up the place’s apparently still dangerous reactors (along with the Russian Prez’s offsprings) if his demands are not met.
Although the DVD box art and press for the film hypes up “Regeneration’s” return to form with original stars Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren back once again, this isn’t really the case. While Deveraux (Van Damme) does get plenty of face time, for much of the film he’s far removed from the action, as his character attempts to “fit” back into society with the help of a kindly British scientist lass (Emily Joyce). Much of the film’s first hour focuses on the attempts by a joint American-Russian task force as they attempt to subdue the Russian rebels within their nuclear reactor hideout, led by the brash Captain Kevin Burke (Mike Pyle), while the rebels rebuff them with the hulking Andrei Arlovski, playing the new generation of UniSol tough guy. As for Scott, he doesn’t even make an appearance until almost the hour mark, and even then, Scott and Deveraux’s long-awaited grudge match takes up a scant 10 or so minutes of the entire film. Color me disappointed.
Nevertheless, credit must be given to Hyams, who signals right away that he’s trying to make a grittier, bloodier version of “Universal Soldier” with the film’s impressive opening action sequence. The movie tacks on a couple of respectable action moments, highlighted by a great running fight as Deveraux, finally reactivated and in fatigues again, takes on the entire rebel contingent by himself using everything from guns to a knife. Deveraux’s less-than-cordial reunion with Scott also makes up the film’s other highlight, as the two powerhouses fling each other through walls and pound away like two guys that really, really don’t like each other. Granted, the two actor’s stunt doubles also do plenty of work during their fight, but it’s pretty impressive how “all in” both Van Damme and Lundgren are still willing to go in their, er, senior years.
If you’re a fan of the first movie, I don’t think you’ll be too disappointed with “Regeneration”. Admittedly, the lack of Deveraux and Scott action in the film’s first hour is a bit surprising, as I kept waiting for the two originals to once again break bones and shoot up the joint, but had to keep waiting and waiting… Meanwhile, John Hyams fills out the cast with mixed-martial arts fighters like Arlovski, who makes for an imposing force. Of all the MMA guys, Pyle shows the most acting ability (aside from, you know, grunting and pounding people’s faces in with one’s fists), which probably explains why he gets the film’s most leading man-ish part without actually being, well, the leading man. Obviously with Hyams’ background in the world of MMA, a lot of the film’s action scenes are of the fisticuff variety, which Hyams shoots like he’s doing a UFC grudge match. It does feel a tad odd at times when the UniSol guys start throwing down like caged fighters, but you get used to it after a while. All in all, I must say that the MMA bruisers in “Regeneration” acquit themselves well.
I’ll be honest with you: I never saw the two direct-to-DVD sequels or “The Return”, so I won’t even try to compare “Regeneration” to them. As an entry in the “Universal Soldier” franchise, “Regeneration” is a worthy direct-to-DVD sequel. The film’s $14 million dollar budget has been put to good use, including a nice, chaotic car chase to open up the film, and plenty of explosions and gunplay throughout. Obviously I would have liked to see more of Deveraux and Scott renewing each other’s acquaintances (by that I mean I’d like to see them beat the heck out of each other more than just the one time), but “Regeneration’s” final 30 minutes is the type of slam-bang, balls-to-the-wall action moviemaking that’s easy to appreciate.
“Universal Solder: Regeneration” resurfaces on DVD February 2, 2010 from Sony Pictures.
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