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‘Universal Soldier’ (R)

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
July 10, 1992

Not to be confused with the anti-militarist folk song of the same title, "Universal Soldier" is an excuse to cast robo-hunks Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren adrift in the same plot. Cleverly, that plot requires them to act in a wooden manner, quite understandable once you realize THEY'RE DEAD!

The film opens in Vietnam in 1969 where the gun-ho Sarge, Andrew Scott (Lundgren), has just gone bonkers, killing civilians and fellow soldiers alike after becoming convinced they are all traitors for not prolonging his rage-fueled war. Along comes Luc Devreux (Van Damme), morally principled to the point of engaging Scott in mortal combat trying to protect a female captive. They die mano-a-mano.

Then they're cryogenically pickled for a couple of decades by a super-secret and renegade government agency until reappearing with several mates as a SuperSwat team, dressed in camouflage outfits that look suspiciously Desert Storm-ish.

The UniSols have extraordinary skills and strength, but they suffer no pain, enjoy no emotion and have no memory (hey, they're dead). The team's first appearance is certainly impressive -- two members scale down the face of Hoover Dam real quick -- and they get the job done against a group of terrorists holding hostages at that site.

Talkin' about re-generation.

But wouldn't you know it: Devreux starts having flashbacks as hostages provoke images of his last moments in Vietnam. And when a nosy reporter (Ally Walker) stumbles onto the cryo-lab and he must reawaken spiritually to save her, Devreux slips out of his keeper's controls. As, quickly, does Sarge, fixated on his last thought before dying. Unfortunately, it's of his very much wanting to KILL DEVREUX!

Turns out for Sarge, the war has never ended. Since all those who oppose him now are perceived as traitors, he soon devises ways to capture their attention -- to get their ears, so to speak.

Typical genre mayhem follows in the form of martial arts bouts, car and truck chases and shootouts. Lundgren, who seems to have taken diction lessons from "Rocky IV" pal Sylvester Stallone, obviously enjoys being cast as a villain again and he goes over the edge every bit as much as Robert De Niro in "Cape Fear." De Niro's a better actor, of course.

As for Van Damme, he's cute as ever, particularly his butt, which gets extensive exposure in one sequence. Once he puts that behind him, Van Damme slips between being the coolly efficient fighting machine and the quizzical amnesiac.

His exchanges with Walker are sweetly clumsy -- he's more chaste than chased -- and Van Damme continues to show a flair for light comedy, particularly in a cafe scene where his insatiable appetite leads to a brawl over an unpaid bill (hey, the guy's hungry -- he's been DEAD FOR 20 YEARS!).

Perhaps Van Damme and Lundgren trade blows more easily than lines, but the whole affair is enjoyable in a mindless way. Their final battle, fueled by overdoses of muscle enhancers, is fairly de rigueur mortis, but no one's going to be coming to this film expecting "Richard III."

"Universal Soldier" contains some graphic violence, not including shots of Van Damme's butt.

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