Universal Soldier: Regeneration John Hyams

Universal Soldier: Regeneration John Hyams
During his string of lowbrow '90s action movies, and even lower brow '00s direct-to-video atrocities, Jean-Claude Van Damme was one of the worst actors in Hollywood. Then came 2008's terrific JCVD, in which he played himself in a performance that was sincere, charismatic and nakedly emotional. It wasn't just a great performance by Van Damme, but a great performance, period. I'm not going to call his work in the latest direct-to-video Universal Soldier film Oscar-worthy, but seeing his hangdog face held in the same sad, stoic expression, like a muscleman Buster Keaton, it's clear that Van Damme is becoming a strong screen presence and, yes, a capable actor. At age 49, Van Damme's heartthrob days are over, and like Mel Gibson in the recent Edge of Darkness, age has given his face an interesting lived-in quality. The overacting that marked many of his worst performances is traded for weary minimalism. Never a great English enunciator, Van Damme's dialogue is kept to the bare minimum, which is a smart move. I just hope I get to see him in another good movie one of these days. Universal Soldier: Regeneration is slick by direct-to-video standards (the massive factory sets possess a certain gloomy menace), but it's also a slow, distressingly dull film. Part man/part cyborg Luc Deveraux (Van Damme) is undergoing therapy to adapt to society before being kidnapped by the government and trained against his will to fight his old cyborg enemy Andrew Scott (Dolph Lundgren) and a next-generation cyborg (MMA fighter Andre "the Pitbull" Arlovski), who have been unleashed by a terrorist group. Curiously, director John Hyams films this with a solemn, plodding tone, as if this rather simple-minded tale were the next Blade Runner. Worst of all, the big reunion/rematch between Van Damme and his old co-star Dulph Lundgren doesn't go down until close to the end, and it's over almost as soon as it begins. For the filmmakers to so badly screw up the only thing anyone renting Universal Soldier: Regeneration wants to see is astonishing. Extras include a short making-of documentary and commentary by John Hyams and, oh hell yes, Dolph mofo Lundgren! (E1)