Wednesday, May 25, 2016
JCVD-A-THON: Universal Soldier: Regeneration (2009)
Universal Soldier: Regeneration.” Following “JCVD” and “The Expendables,” Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren were the most relevant they had been in years. The son of previous Van Damme collaborator, Peter Hyam, director John Hyam had made his name with documentaries about MMA. Hyam would bring that same intensity and urgency to this film. Despite being a direct-to-video fourth sequel to a barely remembered nineties movie, “Universal Soldier: Regeneration” quickly gained fans.
Ignoring all prior “UniSol” sequels, “Regeneration” brings the misbegotten franchise into the modern day. The children of the Russian Prime Minister are kidnapped by an even more deadly, new model of Universal Soldier. Procured by a rogue scientist, the NextGen UniSol is working with Ukrainian terrorists, whose base of operation is inside the ruins of Chernobyl. The U.S. army tries to retrieve the children but the super soldier makes quick work of all of them. With few other options, Luc Deveraux is recruited. However, Deveraux has a serious case of PTSD and, with the help of a therapist, has slowly been reentering normal society. Will the formerly great UniSol be able to stand up to the new model, especially when an old enemy also enters the fray?
The action scenes just aren’t intense in content. Hyam’s direction is kinetic but smooth. The car chase, for example, has a fabulous sense of motion. The camera rolls along with the vehicles, as bullets shatter the glass and the cars smash into each other. Despite all the chaos going on, Hyam’s hand remains steady. The action scenes are characterized by slickly edited, longish shots. Such as when Van Damme runs into battle, blowing away bad guys and effortlessly dodging explosions. A sequence that practically feels like a horror movie is devoted to the NGU stalking the other soldiers, cornering them and dispatching them with a retractable wrist-blade. Even a smaller moment, such as when Mike Pyle’s hero sneaks into Chernobyl and quietly disarms some enemies, has a fluidness to the action. “Universal Soldier: Regeneration” is not just hard hitting but is cleanly and stylishly directed.
a shell-shocked soldier. He’s quiet, withdrawn, on medication, yet still prone to violent outbursts. When the government decides it needs him, they break into his home and drag him off. Luc is dropped onto a treadmill, pumped full of drugs, tossed into training, and back on the battlefield in hours. They don’t care about his well-being. The movie’s final image makes this point even more abundantly clear. The war machine rolls on, using up good men. In the world of “Universal Soldier,” even death can’t keep the government from exploiting its soldiers.
“Regeneration” is a strong film but it has one serious flaw. The story is seemingly without a primary protagonist. Van Damme’s Devereux is obviously the hero we want to root for but he’s on the sidelines until nearly the end of the movie. Andrei Arlovski, a MMA fighter of some renown who is credited as “The Pitbull,” plays the NGU and gets top-billing. Arlovski is physically intimidating and does well in the part but the villain intentionally has no personality. Which leaves Mike Pyle, another professional fighter, as Captain Kevin Burke. Burke is the most morally ethical of the characters, leads the various failed military charges, and helps save the hostages. Despite that, he exits the film well before the end and, truthfully, only has a handful of scenes to himself. Without a solid lead character for the audience to focus on, “Regeneration” ends up sometimes feeling like nothing but a series of (beautifully orchestrated) action scenes.
“Universal Soldier: Regeneration” may not have the sturdiest script but, as far as break-neck action goes, it delivers in spades. It’s not a dumb movie either, with some real ideas on its mind. The film is another proud addition to the line of alt-action flicks, providing hard-hitting alternatives to the CGI-filled spectacles of Hollywood, that also includes “The Raid” and the films of Isaac Florentine. And who would’ve expected that from the fifth film in a series most people probably don’t even remember? [8/10]
[THE VAN DAMMAGE: 3 outta 5]
 An Entire Fight, Sans Shirt
[X] Close-Up Screaming
[X] Jump-Kicks A Guy, Through Something
[X] Performs Either a Split or a Spinning Roundhouse Kick