Thursday, November 15, 2012
John, while exploring his house to convince his daughter there are no monsters, encounters a group of black-clad men who savagely beat him then murder his wife and daughter. Just before John slips into a coma, one of the men removes his mask revealing that he is Luc Deveraux (Jean-Claude Van Damme), setting John, once he wakes up, on a quest for revenge. Only he discovers a much larger mystery and an underground army of Universal Soldiers being trained for a revolution.
A free movie for those who saw John Dies At the End, this flick was billed as the craziest, most violent, most off-the-wall genre film the Festival organizers had ever seen. To say "don't believe the hype" doesn't insult the film--the organizers set a pretty high bar. The movie still didn't thrill me much, though.
I haven't seen any of the Universal Soldier movies, and apparently this is the fourth. However it was pretty easy to pick up the plot. The Universal Soldier program grew genetically-modified people to be perfect soldiers for whatever use the government wanted to put them to--and it only takes 9 months for one to become a fully grown killing machine. Only the soldiers have started going rogue, led by one Luc Deveraux.
I found that to be the most interesting part of the movie. Jean-Claude Van Damme is really creepy and compelling as this cult leader who seemingly can appear in characters' subconscious and draw them to him. I wanted to know what his plans were, what he was doing, just everything about him.
Unfortunately, there's not a whole lot of JCVD in the film, nor much Dolph either. This is not my genre so I'm not familiar with these guys' work, but the movie was just more fun when they were on screen.
Instead of the stars of the franchise, we're following John who, while trying to figure out why his family was killed, slowly discovers a second life that he can't remember and gradually unravels the mystery around his connection to Deveraux. This is a much slower, more meditative plot line punctuated by scenes of extreme violence from the Universal Soldier that Deveraux has dispatched to kill John.
This is the bulk of the movie and, while neat, didn't grab me. I wanted Jean-Claude Van Damme. I wanted this scary bald guy appearing from the strobe lights. Instead I had Ben Affleck's stunt double trying to emote.
Plus, the movie didn't even begin to meet the standards of madness I was told to expect by the Festival planners. Apparently the version I saw was the uncut version which is otherwise not going to screen in the US. There are some excellently-done action sequences and moments of startling violence that come across as real on the screen, but nothing to meet the hype they gave it. Frankly, the movie felt like something that was ultimately too good to be direct-to-video, but not good enough to see wide-release. And that's the state of limbo the movie lives in. Much of it is very sharp and compelling, but the final product just left me tired.