Jean-Claude Van Damme - Luc Devereaux
Heidi Schanz - Erin Young
Bill Goldberg - Romeo
Michael Jai White - Seth
Kiana Tom - Maggie
Daniel Von Bargen - General Radford
Xander Berkeley - Dr. Dylan Cotner
Karis Paige Bryant - Hilary Devereaux
Brent Hinkley - Squid
Genre - Action/Science Fiction
Running Time - 84 Minutes
Many years after the original UniSol program that went awry, Luc Devereaux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) has forgiven what the program has done to his life. He's forgiven the company so much that he's even taken a job there as a consultant to a new UniSol program that will reanimate dead soldiers to work for the government. This time around though, the UniSol program is hooked up to some computer system named S.E.T.H.
Even though things seem to be going okay, the army arrives in town and pulls the plug on the UniSol project. S.E.T.H., who has now become sentient, his transferred its entire system into an UniSol soldier (Michael Jai White) after learning about this. Now in physical form, Seth has manipulated the other UniSol soldiers in wiping out humanity as revenge for stopping the program. Seth has also kidnapped Luc's daughter, Hilary (Karis Paige Bryant). With the help of a news reporter (Heidi Schanz), Luc must stop Seth from hurting his daughter and the rest of the world.
I have three words for UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: THE RETURN:
WHAT THE FUCK!??
Seriously, UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: THE RETURN is a miserable sequel to a pretty great early-90s action film that was probably the peak of Jean-Claude Van Damme's career. 1992's UNIVERSAL SOLDIER had a good action plot, interesting characters, exciting direction, and decent acting from Van Damme and especially Dolph Lundgren. Except for Jean-Claude Van Damme, THE RETURN has none of what made the first film so loved.
I really don't know where to start where it concerns the screenplay. It's just a really terrible script from beginning to end. I guess the best thing it does is ignore the made-for-TV sequels and brings back Van Damme. But other than that, it's a piss-poor version of the original film. Luc gets fucked by the UniSol program again, this time by a central computer named Seth. Luc gets ANOTHER tough reporter sidekick he falls for. Luc fights more Universal Soldiers. Shit explodes. The world gets saved. It's the same film - only with a much bigger budget, but a weaker story, weaker direction, and weaker acting.
What can I even say about the plot? It's been there, done that. A sentient supercomputer gets pissed off, literally tells people "FUCK YOU" with a virtual middle finger, possesses a body, and manipulate those around him to attack the hero. It's Hal 9000 being a bitch. That's pretty much the movie. Wow, that's an entertaining movie experience! Why didn't they make this sequel sooner???
There's so much wrong with UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: THE RETURN. The biggest problem is how desperately cool it wants to be. The action sequences are really generic [jetskis, explosions, people getting shot]. So what does the film do? Add generic rock music in the background to make them "cool". How about having a computer genius named Squid, who looks like the typical late-90s stoner? He has blue spiked hair, loves his Frankenberry cereal, and drinks Mountain Dew [you know, because it's EXTREME!!!]. Yeah, he added a whole lot to the plot [not].
And how about that casting of Kiana Tom [who was one of the biggest fitness models at the time], and WCW wrestler Bill Goldberg [who was one of the biggest wrestlers at the time]? Yeah, they really enhanced the film! Especially Goldberg's great dialogue. Like when he's on fire and Goldberg says, "I'm just warming up!" Or as Van Damme kicks his ass, Goldberg mutters "I really hate that guy!" Yeah, Goldberg's Romeo is such a badass, he studied the Book of Puns. Man, he makes Arnold Schwarzenegger's Mr. Freeze want to punch him in the face for his stupid one-liners. BUT IT'S COOL, YOU SEE???
And what's the point in trying to make Luc Devereaux - you know, badass undead Vietnam soldier with superpowers - into an ordinary person? When in the hell did he have a daughter? Or a wife? How much time has passed since the first film and this one? Hell, why complicate things by giving the guy a daughter? And another female reporter/love interest? WHY??? God, she was more annoying than the last one! And why would the army even allow her to stick around the whole situation, knowing she could put them in risk? Why am I even trying to make sense out of UNIVERSAL SOLIDER: THE RETURN?
The only thing I actually liked was Seth himself. While not the most original idea for a villain, at least the character had a reason to exist. He had a clear motive. He was entirely active the entire film. He was a clear antagonist and at least gave the other characters things to do. As much as the script blew chunks, it's sad that the unoriginal villain happened to be the highlight of the plot. If that doesn't tell you about the quality of this action film, I don't know what does.
The direction by stunt man Mic Rodgers is pretty sad, I gotta say. Roland Emmerich isn't the greatest director ever, but he proved he was capable of thrilling, fun action and good pacing in the first UNIVERSAL SOLDIER film. Rodgers' work is just subpar on every level. The action sequences are dull, having no life or any sort of energy to them. The fight sequences aren't that stimulating to the eye. The film feels much longer than its 84 minutes. Rodgers also doesn't know what film he wants to direct with UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: THE RETURN. It sure doesn't feel like the first film, nor does it feel like the TV sequels. Hell, I thought the cheap TV sequels were better presented visually than this film was. I believe Mic Rodgers has never directed another film since, which doesn't surprise me. Nothing about the direction will impress anyone.
The acting is not great either. Jean-Claude Van Damme just looks bored and tired here as Luc Devereaux. His career was pretty much in the shits by this point, and this sequel was supposed to be his comeback - which unfortunately didn't happen until many years later. Even though he has producer's credit, I think even Van Damme realizes he's in a terrible film because he sleepwalks through it. The fun, charismatic guy from the first film is nothing but a shell here.
At least Bill Goldberg seems to be having fun. He's not much of an actor, but he's pretty imposing as wisecracking Romeo. His dialogue is terrible, but he tries to make the most of it. Plus, he gets to be used as a sled in one scene. I'm sure that helped him prepare for a much better film, SANTA'S SLAY, years later. Kiana Tom should stick to fitness modeling. Heidi Schanz was an inferior version of Ally Walker's character from the first film. Nothing really special about her performance as the stereotypical "tough reporter".
The only one that rose above the bad material was Michael Jai White as Seth. He's another imposing dude that played a menacing bad guy pretty well. Too bad he was in a terrible sequel, and movie in general. But even in bad material, White tends to be somewhat of a highlight.
THE FINAL HOWL
UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: THE RETURN should have never come back to theaters in 1999. Besides Michael Jai White's performance and unintentional comedy at times, this movie wouldn't be worth bothering with. UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: THE RETURN is a bad script that's not helped by lazy direction and less-than-good acting. Hell, Van Damme seems he wants to be anywhere else but starring in this movie. And he's been in some real crap in his career, so that should tell you all you need to know. This sequel is just a real mess of a film and should be avoided at all costs.
0.5 Howls Outta 4