Universal Soldier is nowhere near as bad as I thought it was going to be. The beginning is exceptionally painful, as Roland Emmerich does a Platoon impression. As bad as Charlie Sheen was in that film, however, nothing compares to Jean-Claude Van Damme as a farm boy from Louisiana or Dolph Lundgren’s attempts at conveying insanity. It’s painful.
And then it gets jokey.
But then, even with the incompetent writing, Ally Walker shows up and essentially saved my hour and forty minutes. Walker’s a decent actor, but her intrepid reporter somehow makes the ludicrous plot sound feasible (Walker does have a great voice).
The film’s concept is basically a mix of Robocop and Terminator, but done in such a way to be uninventive (Van Damme and Lundgren aren’t robots, so no neat cyborg moments) and cheap. Emmerich’s a terrible fight scene director and his action scenes, instead of relishing their absurdity and amplifying it to the extreme, are dull. And it’s still frequently impossible to know what’s going on.
But the movie’s watchable–there’s a bunch of good dumb bits, like Van Damme bare-assing it around a motel parking lot or the inexplicable scene with him beating up an entire diner. Emmerich and co-writer Dean Devlin have made careers out of going as cheap as possible for a positive audience reaction and Universal Soldier is no different.
Walker tempers the whole thing and Van Damme’s bad acting isn’t static. He has a couple scenes where he’s not atrocious. It’s amazing, given their wooden acting, neither he nor Lundgren can successfully stare absent-minded as the brainwashed super-soldiers. Jerry Orbach, pre-“Law & Order” legitimacy, has a small role and is silly. Not all of it’s his fault; the script’s just terrible.
Lundgren’s particularly awful for much of the movie, then all of a sudden he becomes hilarious. Once he gets his mind back (again, the script doesn’t make any sense), he’s having a ball. His performance in the movie’s second half suggests he should have done comedy.
The movie’s crap, but manages not to be too offensive throughout, only in parts. And I suppose it’s somewhat impressive how good Emmerich made a moderately budgeted production look.