Thursday, 25 October 2012

UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Toronto After Dark Film Festival (TADFF 2012)

WTF!!! Is it possible - even remotely - for a movie called "UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING" to actually be… uh, well, uh… good? Maybe even, like, a bit… uh, better ? Than good? Another WTF: Dolph Lundgren is, uh, great in this picture! No, really. Genuinely great! Yeah. Dolph Lundgren. No kidding. He's WTF-ing amazing!

Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (2012)  *** + 1 Pubic Hair
dir. John Hyams
Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, Scott Adkins, Andrei "The Pitbull" Arlovski

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Let's imagine a slightly different career trajectory for David Lynch. Supposing Lynch, after making Eraserhead, was NOT approached by Mel Brooks to make the moving and harrowing The Elephant Man. Let's imagine he was instead approached by Golan-Globus to direct an action picture. If this had happened, I suspect it might have been a lot like Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning.

As directed by John Hyams (son of stalwart hack Peter Hyams, director of a crapload of super-entertaining movies like Outland, Capricorn One and my personal favourite, The Relic), this fourth official instalment in the action early 90s franchise is completely and utterly insane. First unleashed in 1992 by Roland (he of little brain, but occasional filmmaking chutzpah like Independence Day) Emmerich, Universal Soldier was an idiotic, but supremely well made and entertaining SF action thriller featuring an army of killing machines who died in battle, but were revived almost Frankenstein-like to kick mega-butt. I can only vaguely remember the picture other than the fact that I'm pretty sure I enjoyed it.

Watching this John Hyams reboot, I have to admit my memories of Emmerich's original film became even more vague. This is the reboot to end all reboots. It's that good! (And don't ask me about the sequels, because I can't even remember if I saw them or not and I'm too lazy to check my archives.)

Here, Hyams introduces a fresh Universal Soldier played by Scott Adkins. Forced to witness the execution of his wife and child he's beaten so severely that he spends several weeks in a coma. When he comes to, all he can remember is the tragic occurrence and believe you me, he is hell bent on revenge.

Continually haunted and taunted by the face of his family's killer, Adkins embarks upon an odyssey of payback. He's pursued by the killer and pretty much everyone else who has a speaking part in the movie.

A parallel story, involving Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren deals with the fascistic efforts of the universal soldiers to create their own self-ruled para-military elite. Lundgren, now craggy faced and lined with age, is an especially zealous orator and we're blessed with a few moments where Hyams shoots him a la Riefenstahl's cinematic deification of Hitler in Triumph of the Will (and which Roger Corman aped brilliantly when he focused upon William Shatner's white supremacist in 1962's The Intruder).

We're murkily, but mysteriously yanked in and out of scenarios that may or may not be dreams and all throughout, we are treated to one magnificent action set piece after another.

Hyams breathlessly directs the action with the assured hand of a master - no mere competent hack, Hyams seems poised to become a huge international talent. The choreography, the fine sense of geography, his faith in nicely composed shots that hold long enough to deliver vital story information (as each shot is a genuine dramatic beat) and to allow full, clear exploitation of the carnage all contribute to the impression that he's the real thing and then some.

The movie keeps slipping in and out of the brain damage suffered by Adkins character and at times we're plunged into a crazed borderline nightmare-scape reminiscent of the kind Lynch crafted in so many films from Blue Velvet to Mulholland Drive. As well, Hyams's application of a vaguely Bunuelian mise-en-scene is what aims this instalment of Universal Soldier into a whole new and exciting direction.

The bottom line is this - Hyams has crafted one of the most bravura action pictures of the year and if the narrative is ultimately less complex and/or even clear than it should be, Hyams's directorial aplomb covers all that up very nicely.

Most of all, though, with this picture and his work in the new Expendables action franchise, Dolph Lundgren seems to have come nicely into his own after so many roles in so many ho-hum action pictures. There's a lot to be said for getting old in all the right ways. Somehow, the hard miles etched onto his mug and a renewed spark in his line delivery makes Lundgren an exciting NEW force to be reckoned with.

"Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning" was unleashed at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2012. Visit the website HERE.