would like to say that Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren used to
make better movies than this, but we all know differently.
Those films had bigger budgets, not better scripts.
The fact that these two stars still regurgitate their
one-note shtick in D-list form - years after their expiration date and
with a sheen of pathos blanketing their every move - doesn't speak to
lowered quality, only lowered expectations.
Soldier: Regeneration is every bit as awful as it sounds, though it
may not be the worst of the incredibly convoluted franchise. As best I can
tell, it's the sixth film in the series - two with theatrical releases,
the rest consigned to some circle of direct-to-video/cable hell - with Van
Damme leaping in and out as his need for a paycheck dictates.
To quote another venerable action series, he's too old
for this shit. At forty-nine and with a lifetime of bad decisions tattooed
across his face, he has to throw himself against the much younger Andrei
"The Pit Bull" Arlovski and somehow make it convincing. Both men play
variations of the titular killing machines - Van Damme's Luc Deveraux
brought out of retirement for one last bit of heroics, with Arlovski's
unnamed Ttenmacher standing in his way.
The film keeps the basics clear, but director John
Hyams (son of Hollywood staple Peter Hyams) muddles up the battle lines
with his confusing and derivative technique. Terrorists seize the ruins of
Chernobyl and threaten to detonate the tower - sending a toxic cloud of
radiation to ravage all northern Europe. Arlovski serves as their trump
card, kidnapping the daughter of the Soviet premier as further leverage
and holding off any pesky military types who want to take back the site.
He even slaughters a quartet of Universal Soldiers sent in specifically to
stop him; hence the need to recall Van Damme's Luc Deveraux from his
sedate life of beating up bar patrons and watching monkey documentaries on
Lundgren's Andrew Scott appears as well - part of some
half-baked double-cross by one bad guy against another, but really serving
as a cheap marketing ploy. Hey, if you liked watching them bash each
other's brains out when they were thirty-five, you'll love watching them
do it when they're fifty! Aren't you excited?!
Me neither. There aren't enough camera tricks in the
world to hide the ravages of time, and the clunky, staggering showdown
between the pair speaks more to mounting chiropractic bills than
breathtaking fight choreography. A second confrontation with Arlovski
stretches credibility to the breaking point, even in an endeavor as
cartoonish as this.
Hyams ramps up to it with a gaggle of one-sided
gunfights, intended to evoke the flavor of first-person shooters like
Call of Duty . . . or rather, cheap knock-offs of Call of Duty,
which ought to sue this production for plagiarism. The crumbling
warehouses in which the mayhem takes place are straight out of Lazy Set
Decoration 101, and while an early car chase carries a certain visceral
competence, the remainder of Universal Soldier: Regeneration shows
no inclination to repeat the feat.
Instead, we get reheated leftovers, gussied up in
ostensibly new clothes but failing to engage any but the most undemanding
action movie fans.
It's not even bad enough to properly mock, instead
generating a profound and bleak depression at the sight of two old
warhorses forced into roles they clearly can't handle anymore. The script
makes some attempt to tie into the franchise's overall mythology; best of
luck working out how accurate it is, or indeed whether or not it was ever
worth the bother. In the meantime, anyone foolish enough to pick up this
DVD knows exactly what they're in for.
Keep copious amounts of booze nearby: believe me,
you're going to need it!
THE DISC: Good image quality highlights the
copious shortcomings in cinematography and art direction. The disc's bonus
features are predictably sparse: a commentary track featuring Hyams and
Lundgren, and a 20-minute behind-the-scenes look at the production.
WORTH IT? Not on your life. Rent the original if
you're that hard up for a Van Damme/Lundgren slugfest. At least they
looked like they could manage the task back then.
RECOMMENDATION: If you see it festering on Syfy
some lonely night, keep changing channels. There's bound to be something
- Rob Vaux