Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Scott Adkins Enlists with the Unisols: Universal Soldier—Day of Reckoning

How did Luc Deveraux go from being the hero of the original Universal Soldier to the messianic villain of the latest installment?  One can hardly tell from the five previous of films.  While only two or possibly three are considered “canonical,” none bear much narrative relationship to each, besides some shared names and unreconstructed 1980’s style action.  At least 1999’s The Return had Kianna Tom and the latest outing recruits Scott Adkins.  Somewhat fittingly, the action star of the future is out for revenge against an action star of the past in John Hyams’ Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

One night, Luc Deveraux broke into innocent citizen John’s home, killing his wife and daughter and leaving the man in a coma.  When John comes to, he is interviewed by an FBI agent, who conveniently points him in Deveraux’s direction.  Of course, the audience can immediately tell it is all an implanted memory designed to turn John’s into a vengeful tool of the government.  Nonetheless, the opening segment’s violent cruelty is a definite buzz kill.

As John proceeds on his manipulated mission, Deveraux and his band of rogue Unisols try to stop him with a series of hallucinatory messages and some straight forward muscle provided by Magnus, one of the most recently “awakened” Unisols enlisted into Deveraux’s doomsday cult.  While Deveraux and his apparently immortal former nemesis Andrew Scott have developed a serum to counteract the Unisol programming, it appears its net effect merely switches their blind obedience to Deveraux, himself.  Frankly, there seems to be plenty good reason for the Feds to be hunting Deveraux, regardless of their methods.

For some reason, a number of critics have embraced Reckoning even though it merely revisits the same sort of terrain John Frankenheimer’s infinitely superior Manchurian Candidate first staked out decades ago.  At this point, the film’s moral ambiguity and government paranoia are so old hat, they are just plain boring. 

Still, bringing in Adkins helps.  He will be making action films long after his above-the-title Expendables 2 co-stars.  Playing to his strengths, there are a few nifty fight sequences, including a particularly well choreographed melee in a sporting goods store.  As Adkins’ baseball bat wielding opponent, former UFC Champ Andrei “The Pitbull” Arlovski nicely steps into the Randall “Tex”Cobb-ish role of Magnus.

Watching Adkins and Van Damme have another go at each other is certainly entertaining, but Reckoning lacks both the slickness and the self-awareness of a quality B-movie beatdown like the old school Assassination Games. Hyams (son of Peter) seems to want to do Universal Soldier as adapted by Philip K. Dick, but most fans would rather see the Golan-Globus version.  Not nearly as original as believes it is, Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (or UniSol 3½) is only recommended for hardcore Adkins and franchise die-hards when it opens this Friday (11/30) in New York at the Village East.