ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, JULY 16, 1992
Totally Recalled Terminatin’ Commando would have been a more apt name for Universal Soldier, considering how many Arnold Schwarzenegger movies are ripped off in the course of this slam-bang action-fest. But the real Terminator doesn’t have much to worry about, since muscle-bound martial arts experts Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren—despite their obvious aspirations—just aren’t in Arnie’s league.
Universal Soldier opens in 1969 Vietnam, with battle-crazed American soldier Andrew Scott (Lundgren) pulling a Platoon by taking out his “gook”-hating frustrations on two innocent Vietnamese civilians. Just when he’s about to add four more souvenirs to his growing collection of human ears, good-guy marine Luc Devereux (Van Damme) stops him with a twisting bayonet in the belly, but not before Scott blows him away with a bullet to the head. They both die.
Then the opening credits roll.
The scene shifts to present-day Nevada, and the two previously done-in soldiers are robot-like members of a prototype military unit. They’ve been revived by a sketchy process that has something to do with quick-freezing and then “hyper-accelerating” their bodies, and are promptly used to kick some hostage-takers’ asses at the Hoover Dam. In the ensuing melee their supposedly wiped-out memories of Vietnam are rekindled, and they take up their old quarrel once again.
Into the fray stumbles news reporter Veronica Roberts (Meg Ryan look-alike Ally Walker), who casually sneaks up on a top-secret military installation in her CNA News station-wagon. Devereux saves her from Scott’s newly ignited bloodlust, and the rest of the film is taken up with the bad guy chasing the good guy and the girl.
This is when the long list of Arnie-isms start to unreel like a fishing rod on a Great White shark. Van Damme pounds a roomful of scrap-happy good-ol’-boys (Terminator 2), gets under his own skin to retrieve a homing device (Total Recall), and smashes through enough walls to give construction workers nightmares . Oh yeah…he also shows off his naked buns (The Terminator).
Not to be out-Arnied, Lundgren plays up the one-liners, like when he’s jovially tossing grenades around (“Want to play catch?”) or sewing himself another necklace of ears (“I’m all ears”). He even uses one burly arm to hold a loud-mouthed little weasel of a guy up by the ankle, just like Arnie did in Commando.
There are some pretty decent stunts in Universal Soldier—especially the one where the two main Uni-Sols go rappelling face-first down Hoover Dam—but they hardly make this $23-million turkey worth your eight bucks. And martial arts fanatics will be unhappy to know that most of the ultra-violence here comes blazing from the barrel of a gun.
As for the ending, let’s just say that anyone who shook their head in disbelief after Sly Stallone’s runt Rocky pounded Lundgren’s six-foot-six Drago in Rocky 4 is in for some déjà vu.