Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning [Blu-Ray] John Hyams

Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning [Blu-Ray] John Hyams
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Reverence for the two elder statesmen of action, who receive top billing despite barely having enough screen time to qualify as supporting players, comes at the expense of making the best Universal Soldier movie possible. Director John Hyams is obviously quite proud of his attempt to create a more cerebral piece of testosterone-driven action sci-fi cinema than expected from the fourth entry of a Jean-Claude Van Damme franchise, with a delusional comparison to the intelligence of a Philip K. Dick story in his bonus feature interview. But as much as his care and effort show (there's some thoughtful editing, lighting and shot composition on display), Day of Reckoning isn't compelling enough narratively to skimp on wowing fight choreography, which it does. Climactic confrontations involving original Unisols Luc Deveraux (Van Damme) and Andrew Scott (Dolph Lundgren) are so rickety they're almost embarrassing to watch. Ass-whooping grandpas are easier to take with at least a grain of humour, and this film has all the mirth of an abortion documentary. Scott Adkins (Zero Dark Thirty), the clear star of the film and a stunning physical performer, who also possesses much greater dramatic range than his legendary '80s co-stars, suggests that the film shares traits with Memento, but it's much closer to a dour version of The Long Kiss Goodnight. Resultantly, it's difficult to take the film seriously when it's begging for respect in every scene without even a winking acknowledgement to its inherent ridiculousness. To sell a hard-knuckled mystery thriller involving military mind control that borrows the amnesiac super-warrior angle from the Bourne franchise, you need more convincing actors to support Adkins than the guy who couldn't pull off a campy He-man and the dude who portrayed Guile in Street Fighter. Dolph Lundgren plays some sort of half-baked spiritual leader figure to a bunch of sweaty, brainwashed muscle men (seriously!) and Van Damme has all the energy of a despondent, reanimated corpse. When Day of Reckoning stops being ponderous in its failed attempts at profundity long enough to focus on high-velocity, extremely brutal martial arts violence, it's a lot of fun, with fight choreography that's clear, concise and never short of breathtaking. The only special features are the aforementioned interviews with Hyams and Adkins, as well as brief comments from Lundgren, who much more sensibly holds the film in similar esteem to The Expendables 2, and a bizarre chat with Van Damme, who's rather desperately sporting a JCVD cap. (eOne)