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Universal Soldier Reviews

Action-movie ennui sets in early in UNIVERSAL SOLDIER, a lugubrious thriller featuring two of the biggest, beefiest boys of the B cinema. Luc Deveraux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and Andrew Scott (Dolph Lundgren) are US soldiers who kill each other in Vietnam when the former interferes with the latter's My Lai-style slaughter of a friendly village. Listed as MIA, they are actually flash-frozen and shipped to a top-secret facility where a team of mad scientists led by Colonel Perry (Ed O'Ross) turn the two, with other select specimens, into bionic supersoldiers known as "Unisols." While helping foil a terrorist takeover of the giant "McKinley Dam" (played in stoic style by the real-life Hoover Dam), Deveraux starts having flashbacks to his former life, and makes a break from his robotic pals. The increasingly human Deveraux teams up with a spunky TV reporter, Veronica Roberts (Ally Walker), with whom he trades wisecracks while they are chased across much of the Midwest by Scott (who's also regaining his former, sadistic identity), and also by Colonel Perry and the police--who capture the duo long enough for Scott to catch up with them. Thinking they have destroyed Scott in a truck crash, Veronica takes Deveraux home to his Cajun parents in Louisiana, only to have Scott catch up with them one last time for a final confrontation that ends with Scott being put through a giant wood mulcher. The biggest--possibly only--real surprise to UNIVERSAL SOLDIER is that the cast acquits itself quite well. Walker takes top honors as a "Murphy Brown"-style heroine who--as usual for the genre--doesn't have much to do except act scared, run like hell and trade quips with the hero. But she does so with grit, humor and grace. And while no one familiar with his B work will ever mistake Van Damme for Cary Grant, he does possess a basic amiability that makes the two a surprisingly engaging pairing. Lundgren, meanwhile, has genuine, cocky, big-star charisma that he marshals to good effect here, slyly underplaying his outsized, paranoid villain, whose hobbies include making stylish necklaces from the ears of his victims. UNIVERSAL SOLDIER's real problem is a screenplay that's all premise and no story, laboriously setting in place its sole idea--a tortured and obvious reworking of Schwarzenegger's TERMINATOR epics--and taking it nowhere. With no real plot tying them together, the impressively staged big scenes become empty exercises in logistics, while the smaller scenes never develop any momentum. (Extreme violence, profanity.)