UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING (John Hyams, 2012)
dead of night interruption that begins UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF
RECKONING is a familiar one in homes with young children. John (Scott
Adkins) is awakened by his daughter, who claims there are monsters in
their house. The dutiful father gets out of bed and goes room by room
to assure her that everything is fine. The difference in this situation
is that there really are predators lurking in the dark. A trio of
black-clad bad guys clobber John and then execute his wife and child in
front of him.
months later John awakens from a coma. His memory is shaky, but when
an FBI agent (Rus Blackwell) shows him a photo of Luc Deveraux
(Jean-Claude Van Damme), John recognizes him as the man who murdered his
family. Deveraux was one of the first government-created super
soldiers. Now he leads the UniSol underground against their makers.
Among his troops is Dolph Lundgren reprising his UniSol character in
what amounts to something between a cameo and a supporting role in
his release from the hospital John begins his quest for vengeance with
the assistance of a stripper (Mariah Bonner) who suggests he had a
different life than the one he recalls. Standing in the way is Magnus
(Andrei Arlovski), a sleeper super soldier who Deveraux turns and sends
Roland Emmerich’s UNIVERSAL SOLDIER debuted in 1992, the series
puttered along with a couple TV movies and a 1999 theatrical sequel
until John Hyams revived it in 2009 with REGENERATION, an entry that
went direct-to-video in the United States. For the fourth installment
DAY OF RECKONING director and co-writer Hyams treats ‘90s brain-dead
action like art cinema.
a far cry from what Van Damme and Lundgren were doing twenty years ago,
but in the end this film comes off like a band that claims all of the
“right” influences in interviews but can’t synthesize good taste into
work of merit. The first-person point of view opening scene, complete
with a blinking eyes effect, recalls Gaspar Noé’s ENTER THE VOID. The
surreal tone of David Lynch’s films heavily informs UNIVERSAL SOLDIER:
DAY OF RECKONING’s unreal and rudderless feeling. The body horror in
David Cronenberg’s oeuvre and APOCALYPSE NOW’s journey ending with
confronting a charismatic leader are also quoted.
its muddled story, familiarity with the ongoing UNIVERSAL SOLDIER
series doesn’t appear to matter. If only there weren’t so much of that
ponderous, slow-moving plot leading up to and between the fight scenes.
A car chase that spills into hand-to-hand combat in a sporting goods
store and two climactic boss battles give the primal satisfaction that
action movies can deliver. Hyams’ action chops and some neat
flourishes, like the strobe effect and noise that accompany the
summoning of Deveraux in visions, demonstrate his potential to
invigorate the genre if he find or develop source material that isn’t
such a slog.