Universal Soldier: Regeneration (2009)

Actors: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, Andrei "The Pit Bull" Arlovski, Mike Pyle, Garry Cooper, Corey Johnson and Emily Joyce
Live Action, NTSC
Number of discs:
Sony Pictures Entertainment
DVD Release Date:
February 2, 2010
Run Time:
106 minutes



One 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.

Universal 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 Animal Planet.

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 better on.

- Rob Vaux



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