Tuesday, 18 June 2019
Universal Soldier's finest moments are fleeting but indelible, brief blips revolving around Dolph Lundgren's zapped-out, reanimated war criminal. Despite the film's body horror conceit - dead 'Nam veterans are resurrected as automated meat shields then used to defuse hostage situations - director Roland Emmerich is much more excited about presenting his stars as muscled intruders, upsetting gormless locals with their loud, pneumatic behaviour. These wildly disparate ideas only really knit together in one scene, and it's all thanks to the ear-collecting mania that Lundgren invests in his Sergeant Andrew Scott.
Following an unsuccessful, not to mention incompetent, attempt to capture / eliminate Jean-Claude Van Damme's Luc Deveraux, Scott is lumbered with several chewed-up, unresponsive underlings. In order to function effectively these souped-up stiffs must be kept on ice, leaving Scott no alternative but to drag these mushy comrades around a supermarket in search of cold storage. Scott screams at vacant shoppers and shelf-stackers, demanding they point him towards the nearest walk-in freezer. Once his men are dumped in a meat locker, Scott returns to the shop floor to hold court, ranting and raving to a stunned, schlubby audience about the 'treachery' of the South Vietnamese.
Lundgren's performance defies the neglect of Richard Rothstein, Christopher Leitch, and Dean Devlin's screenplay, motoring along entirely on the actor's raw, babbling enthusiasm. It is to Emmerich's credit that he, quite apparently, just got out of the way. Lundgren shrieks and booms, mispronouncing words then taking rote tough guy talk off in new, incomprehensible directions. Luc Deveraux's reawakening is a slow process, prickled then catalysed by the sameness of the situations he finds himself in. Van Damme portrays his enlightenment as a kind of rebirth, resetting Deveraux to an innocent, almost childlike state. The film leverages this into farcical situations designed to exploit Van Damme's boyish good looks and willingness (need?) to disrobe.
Lundgren gets much more to chew on. Scott, it seems, broke his programming much earlier than Deveraux, happy to play along with the military-industrial complex's latest bone-headed scheme simply because it gave him ample opportunity to brutalise people. Out on his first (screen) mission Scott, referred to by his undead call-sign GR13, is set the task of silently eliminating a posted guard. While Van Damme's GR44 heroically punches his quarry unconscious, GR13 twists his guy's head off then stamps on the prone, already dead, body. Universal Soldier proposes a war between a reluctant professional and a raving lunatic but then gets lost along the way, delaying the expected collision and invincible flesh conceit to amble along sex-comedy side roads that don't actually lead anywhere.