Universal Soldier (1992)

universal soldier

“I wouldn’t exactly kill someone for a cigarette. I’d hurt them real bad at this point, but I won’t kill ’em.”

The Scoop: 1992 R, Directed by Roland Emmerich and starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren and Ally Walker

Tagline: The future has a bad attitude.

Summary Capsule: War casualties are brought back from the dead as people who look exactly the same, but walk stiffly and speak in a monotonic1 manner. Of course the memory erasure doesn’t work. Don’t be silly.

Shalen’s rating: Four out of eight cyborg zombie Vietnam veterans.

Shalen’s review: This movie has everything one could come to expect from an adulthood of watching both a)Jean Claude Van Damme movies and b)Mechanical Man movies.2 It has over-muscled men with or without foreign accents starting out in full uniforms, then finding ways to get mostly out of them while not actually participating in any sex scenes. It has grotesque injuries that are either ignored or healed miraculously. It has numerous unnecessary and graphic on-screen deaths, or in this particular case, mostly off-screen deaths. It has that obsessive commanding officer who does things like shooting his own men to indicate how serious he is. It has Jean Claude’s famous 740-degree-or-so round kick and the muscular naked buttocks that we are sure actually belongs to him, because where would they find a body double that short?

Here’s the plot, such as it is: Van Damme is Luc Deveraux, a soldier in Vietnam whose commanding officer Andrew Scott (played by Dolph Lundgren! Yay!) goes bughouse and starts making jewelry out of human body parts. Luc objects to this fashion gaffe, so they shoot each other to death. Then some army higher-ups come along and collect the bodies. Cut to the “near future,” which looks a lot like 1992, when these two and others have been brought back from the dead. Now they are an antiterrorist unit which goes around carrying bad first-person-shooter style cameras that harm their depth perception, but this does not matter, because they are dead. We are reminded of this by the fact that they get to sit around naked in a very cold room in between terrorist-fighting gigs. Being really cold allows reanimated dead guys to regenerate faster, because… Er… Look! More pectorals!

A plucky blond reporter (who, I regret to inform you, survives the film) shows up to film them, gets fired, and goes snooping around with her disposable camera person. The army folks’ attempt to hush her up kicks off some flashbacks Luc has been having vis a vis how he died, and he helps her escape. They spend the rest of the movie alternating fighting and fleeing. At some point Scott the Lundgren starts remembering that he is crazy, kills a bunch of folks, and kills some others as he goes off pursuing Luc. They have a big traditional fight scene in which Scott starts by wiping the floor with Luc, then gets inexplicably killed when the main character cheats. Luc gets the girl and also to see his parents, who live in Lousiana and somehow have very different accents from his. Not that Van Damme sounds much like a Cajun anyway.3

One does not go into a film like this one looking for directorial innovation, or unusual camera work, or stellar scripts and acting. One goes into it hoping to see Jean Claude Van Damme beat people up and get beat up himself. This happens, so it’s a fairly satisfying movie in that regard. It’s too bad the filmmakers apparently watched the second Indiana Jones movie and thought Willie Scott was a great character, because they more or less inserted her into this one as the plucky blond reporter. She does get to feel up naked Van Damme to look for a tracking device, which is more than Willie ever got in return for her energy expenditure in the form of shrieking. At least this one seems to have cigarette voice from all the smoking, so she’s a little less shrill. See, back in the early 90s they thought smoking was a good way for women to indicate their independence in between squealing and tripping on things.4

I was a little disappointed in the Mechanical Man aspects of the film, which are only present for about the first half. After that Luc pretty much goes back to acting anxious and surprised, Scott goes back to being crazy, and all the other Unisols (as the army folks call them, as if they were some kind of ill-advised parasol/unicycle hybrid designed by the Pentagon) are dead. There’s no attempt at really explaining what it’s like to be one of the Unisols, or what it feels like to undergo the kind of changes Luc goes through over the course of the film. This is more or less an area where no thought was expended whatsoever. Even Solo does better with that aspect of this action subgenre, and that was definitely a B sort of film.

En fin, this is a dumb movie. It’s a silly movie. And, if you like watching this sort of thing, it can be a lot of fun. Not recommended for the sensitive sort of folks who feel they can better relate to art films and dramas, but if you’re into popcorn actioners, this is not a bad way to spend an evening with some like-minded people.

1 It is TOO a word. Look it up, you Philistine.
2 See reviews of
Soldier, Terminator 2, Solo, etc. for more on the Mechanical Man archetype and why Shalen loves it. (Because she is a sick, sick person in need of therapy, that’s why.)
3 We understand he is actually Belgian.
4 It was actually a plot to give all the radical feminists lung cancer, but then the whole goddess thing became popular and many of them switched to herbs and crystals. This is far more obnoxious than smoking, but it doesn’t usually kill you.

Terrorists: Giving plaid a bad name.

Intermission!

  • Van Damme movie moments: Gratuitous butt shot
  • The line “What accent?”
  • Luc’s parents’ farm is supposedly in Louisiana, but at the end you can see mountains in the background (Louisiana doesn’t have any).
  • Dolph Lundgren’s acting. It’s hard to believe this man also starred in The Punisher and Masters of the Universe, isn’t it?
  • I’m thinking that reporter gets so peevish as the film goes on because Luc took away her cigarettes. Cold turkey while running for your life. Ouch.
  • Cult movie bonus points: Tiny Lister as a background Unisol.
  • The young couple that Luc reacts to at the Hoover Dam incident are actually the two in the beginning in Vietnam – same actors.
  • Do not try to stunt drive in a station wagon.
  • Those eyepieces. Anybody else thinking “Resistance is futile?”
  • When Luc comes out into the motel lot naked, he still has socks on.
  • This was the last film to be recorded in CDS, an early digital sound format. In the following year of the film’s release, sound technicians had developed DTS. This sound format was apparently of higher audio quality than CDS and has been used in most movie theaters ever since.
  • The UniSol’s basic sidearm seen in throughout the film is a Magnum Research Inc. .357 Magnum Desert Eagle.
  • Roland Emmerich director trademark: the number 44 (Luc’s code number is GR44).

Groovy Quotes

Luc: You should buckle up.
Veronica: How can you be so damn calm? I mean, your buddies back there just shot enough ammo at us to destroy Eastern Europe, and you’re sitting here bitching at me about a goddamned seat belt?

Luc: [asking Veronica to help him look on his naked body for a tracer] Look for something hard.

Luc: [looking down] Is that supposed to be there?
Veronica: Yes, yes, it’s very normal.

Veronica: I figured you had to be French or something because of your accent.
Luc: What accent?

Veronica: Oh man, I’d kill for a cigarette right now.
Luc: You’d kill someone for a cigarette?
Veronica: No. It’s an expression, a figure of speech. I wouldn’t exactly kill someone for a cigarette. I’d hurt them real bad at this point, but I won’t kill ’em.

Scott: Say goodnight, a-hole.
Luc: Goodnight, a-hole.

If you liked this movie, try these:

  • Soldier
  • Terminator 2
  • Solo

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