AKA: Universal Soldier 3; Universal Soldier III
Having been cast because of the mixed martial artist's natural charisma that flooded through the bandwidth of online interviews and into the director's vision of the sequel, Mike Pyle tells us on the Blu-ray of Universal Soldier: Regeneration that acting is easy but fighting is hard.
And luckily, to prevent boredom for Pyle and because he was going head-to-head with veteran athletes like Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren (reprising their roles) and UFC champion Andrei “The Pitbull” Arlovski, director John Hyams' Regeneration follows Hyams' belief that “function dictates form” by requiring infinitely more fighting than acting.
Yet, this being said, I had literally no idea that Pyle wasn't an actor and found the young man portraying the sole American flesh and blood fighter in the group of robotic, super-charged, indestructible, perfect military machines to be the most engrossing character in the minimalist action movie.
Of course, my positive impression of Pyle and strong connection with his character was admittedly tied-- if not second-- to that of Van Damme's Luc Devereaux whom we discover has gone into the care of a kind female psychiatrist trying to rehabilitate the soldier from machine to man in a process that's lasted years.
A purposely gritty offering that, as the director shares, “has a real savagery” to the look in comparison to slicker science fiction, this Bulgarian filmed work set at Chernobyl understands both its function and its form as an unrelenting action B-movie. However, Regeneration's initial set-up is worthy of a theatrical, A-movie.
It opens with a bravura sequence that comes out of nowhere as two siblings find their bodyguards murdered as they're forced into a car and held hostage. The pulse-pounding chase that moves from vehicle to street shootout to helicopter involves images that call to mind Heat, French Connection and Bourne Identity illustrating just what perhaps the cast and crew could've done with a slightly bigger budget and a better script that had nothing to do with as Lundgren rightfully likens it-- the Frankenstein myth.
Revealed to be the children of their governmental head, a merciless group of terrorists rig enough explosives on a nuclear reactor to obliterate everything in miles unless roughly two hundred and thirty of their political prisoner comrades are released.
Given seventy-two hours and warned that any military hostile attempts will lead to destruction, the president nonetheless tries to figure out a way to ensure safety for his people and his children as well by turning to the military for tactical strategy.
Covertly identifying where the children are located, when it's revealed that the villains are in possession of a newly modified, next-generation universal soldier or NGU (Arlovski), they plan to retrieve four of their own universal soldiers programmed back during Vietnam that had been cryogenically frozen to try and take out the villains, save the kids and defuse the explosives.
However, when Arlovski's NGU lives up to the ultimate fighting champion's nickname of Pitbull and the universal soldiers are destroyed, it's time to bring Luc Devereaux in once again.
Repeatedly comparing the Uni-Sols to dogs told to sit by an evil genius doctor who may as well be Frankenstein, when we discover he's brought along reassurance in the form of Lundgren, the movie uses a subtle allegory about the dangers of science and medicine if blended together with ethics, weaponry, morality, safety and the big question of whether or not we should do something just because we could.
Yet, this all works on a level that the filmmakers, who've worked with Van Damme before on Timecop and Sudden Death just want us to take on in the back of our minds since front and center, we realize we're mainly watching a grisly killing spree between men and machines... and of course men who are machines.
Having seen JCVD earlier in 2009, I've gained a new appreciation for Van Damme as a cinematic personality and while with this in mind, it pains me to see him in another rushed work with a horrific script, his emotional range still draws us in as much as Pyle did for the filmmakers who caught him online.
Despite an R rating that really should be an NC-17 if it were playing in a cineplex, the film that arrived straight to disc in America devolves from complex, intriguing tale into just one smack-down after another in a way that makes you surprised that Fox Studio's WWE weren't behind this production for extra funding a la The Marine franchise.
Leaving it open for a Terminator like eerie ending that possibly-- and depending on Van Damme's career-- at least one major player will return if not Van Damme, the bloody soldier on robotic soldier action that fills the rest of the work grows repetitive quickly, making the film feel a million miles away from that extremely dynamic beginning.
Still, the roughly hundred minute work marks a brief but important return of Lundgren and Van Damme for the film series' fans, all these years and mediocre spin-offs and one filmed installment since the original.
However, revealingly in the extensive and fascinating behind-the-scenes extra, we notice that there's some pretty potent history between the men as they're never filmed together nor do they every speak about or to one another in any other capacity than an abstract job-related one.
Despite this, I'm sure the relationship between the men won't stir the interest of those just interested in the ass kicking... unless of course, they decide to fight it out in another sequel in the future.
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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.