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August 27 - September 3, 1999

[Movie Reviews]

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Universal Soldier: The Return

Universal Soldier Here's irony: an aging action star tries to revive his sagging career by spawning a sequel to a flick about resurrected soldiers. The result is DOA. This time out, Jean Claude Van Damme is a compassionate family man -- his Unisol (brought-back-from-the-dead über-soldier) has become human and is now a single father -- the wife has, of course, passed on. He's also an adviser to the Army, which is building a new generation of Unisols. The genetically enhanced units are cyber-linked to a HAL-like (as in 2001) computer called SETH (Self Evolving Thought Helix). When SETH discovers that the military wants to pull the plug on the project, he powers up the Unisols and Van Damme gets his opportunity to play savior and kick some ass.

In the original 1992 actioner, the Muscles from Brussels had Dolph Lundgren's nefarious robo-mercenary to contend with, and there was reasonable intrigue to their atavistic game of cat-and-mouse. Here Van Damme is pitted against cardboard baddies in the form of pro wrestling's Goldberg as the Terminator-esque unit called Romeo and buffster Michael Jai White as the physical incarnation of SETH. ESPN fitness babe Kiana Tom is on hand, and so is Heidi Sanchez as the bland, pain-in-the-ass reporter turned love interest. There's too much soap opera and kinder-gentler mumbo-jumbo for the picture's own good, and when the bullets finally begin to rip, the pyrotechnics are cheesy and the action is muddled and boorish. The film clicks only when Van Damme and White square off in the "big" fight sequence. Besides that, the most enthralling thing about Universal Soldier 2 is the horrifying spectacle of Van Damme trying to intimate sensitivity.

-- Tom Meek
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