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Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning

Year: 2012
Studio: Foresight Unlimited
Director: John Hyams
Writer: John Hyams
Cast: Scott Adkins, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren

There's a long and proud history of featuring a famous cast member prominently in the marketing of a film and then having them hardly appear in it, like Liam Neeson as the jail-breaker in Paul Haggis' The Next Three Days or Steven Seagal as the military hero opposite Kurt Russell's bureaucrat spook in Executive Decision. It's more or less false advertising, and there should be some standards council you can complain to.

If you do it with not one but two actors, both of which are known for a specific franchise (of which the film in question is assuredly a part), it's three times as bad. Case in point? Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning. With both Jean-Claude Van Damme as Luc Devereaux and Dolph Lundgren as Andrew Scott on the poster, you expect them to be front and centre, don't you?

The story's actually about a guy who suffers a home invasion in which a gang led by Deveraux sees his wife and daughter murdered. After he emerges from the coma almost a year later he's a broken man (except that he leaves his walking stick behind and starts MMA cage matching with goons all of a sudden, Bruce Wayne-style) driven by only one thing – revenge.

He falls in with some hooker who apparently knows him (although he has no idea how) and with a fearsome, Terminator-like assassin on his tail, he goes on Deveraux's trail. After a decent amount of detective work for a guy who's been alseep for a year, he traces Deveraux to a riverside hideout where he's styled a new religion based on the Unisols rising up and overthrowing society.

Aside from the opening invasion sequence and a few mental meltdown moments going on in the heads of characters (which will bring on seizures if you're epileptic and headaches if you're not), Van Damme is in the single climactic fight. Lundgren is in two – one at a brothel where it seems the Unisols all hole up to have fun, and another as the one-from-the-top boss level fight at the end. For at least a full hour, neither of them are anywhere to be seen.

Some of the action scenes are blisteringly paced – completely at odds with the rest of the film, which director John Hyams seems to think works better full of long, slow, avant-garde imagery.

It's also violently bloody, at times so dark and vicious it borders on horror. And all the while that's going on, you're trying to figure out what the hell anything going on has to do with the mythology. I'm not the world's most devoted Universal Soldier fan, but I've seen the other three (including the ace original) and thought I knew their world. I know Scott was killed at the end of the last one, and now he's back because apparently Unisols are regenerated and regrown time and time again. Not only that, but for some reason Deveraux is now a villain, some unknown wrestler the good guy.

It's confusing and despite some solid action directing, it's a huge missed opportunity.

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