Universal Soldier: Regeneration – Movie Review

Based on the novel Push by Sapphire.

OK, let’s get one thing straight – Jean Claude Van Damme is my absolute favorite actor on the face of the planet. From kickboxing to bloodsporting, no one man has lit up the silver screen in the same way this Belgian waffle has lit up my life. While his 80s action contemporaries succumbed to making family fare, films with a message or other trivial pursuits like politics and policework, Van Damme has spent his 20-year reign on top giving his fans exactly what we want – crotch-punching, split-kicking, sassy female reporter-swooning feature-length absurdity. Following the inspiration of a fantastic Van Damme article from the prophet Seanbaby, last year I took it upon myself to launch Van Damme Nation, a series of bi-weekly parties in New York City that saw us eventually watching every frame of celluloid ever filmed of the man’s work including his Emmy-not-nominated appearance on “Friends.” As a result, I’ve groomed myself to have somewhat of a PhD in JCVD. With my phone ringing off the hook and my email box flooded with queries of “Chaz, how is the new Van Damme movie?” I finally have the timecop to sit down and tell you that, van sadly, Universal Soldier: Regeneration sucks.

“But Chaz” you ask, and I say “what?” and you say “how could a movie in 2010 starring Van Damme be so awful?” Well, to be Jean Claude Van frank, there just isn’t Van Damme near enough of the man in the movie. Of course, with this being an entry in the Universal Solider franchise, I shouldn’t be that surprised. The first Universal Soldier, shot back in the glorious year of 1991, stands one of Van Damme’s 3 1/2 intentionally entertaining films. With a monologue-loving nemesis in the always entertaining Chemical Engineer Dolph Lundgren*, this film about cyborg super-soldiers made from harvested corpses of casualties of the Vietnam war searching for humanity went on to be Van Damme’s biggest success. The film’s producers would like you to believe that Van Damme’s character Luc Deveraux re-emerging, after being implanted with a microchip that produces comedic quips, to fight Michael Jai White (Spawn, The Toxic Avenger Part II) and professional wrestler Bill Goldberg in 1999’s Universal Soldier: The Return was the next chapter in the story, but that’s because they’re chronic liars. Yes, Universal Soldier 2: Brothers in Arms and Universal Soldier 3: Unfinished Business starring Burt Reynolds, Gary Busey and former President Andrew Jackson do exist, but since they don’t contain any Van Damage, they don’t. By that same logic Regeneration isn’t Universal Solider 3 but Universal Soldier 2 1/2.

Van Damme plays Chaz Kangas in the movie based on me watching this movie.

Instead of Van Damme or Lundgren, we’re treated to 80 minutes of MMA Fighter Andrei ‘The Pitbull’ Arlovski. For the unaware, “MMA Fighter” is a film term for “unwatchably bland.” While he does bring plenty of inverted heel-hook leglocks and Arm-in Guillotine headlocks to the fight scenes, these are all things nobody wants to see in a cyborg zombie-soldier movie. I can understand the potential appeal had it been footage of the man in actual athletic competition, but when we’re expecting head-explosions, crotch pummeling and broken English, it’s just plain boring. Arlovski plays the key weapon of a Russian terrorist group who’ve kidnapped the Prime Minister’s family threatening to nuke (or, perhaps re-nuke) Chernobyl unless their associates are released. Switzerland (yes, the neutral country) decides to *regenerate* Van Damme to stop the bomb. Yet a Swiss renegade doctor wants to go one step further and kill the terrorists, so he *regenerates* Dolph Lundgren to butcher them. A midst this, Russia sends in a standard solider to rescue the kids, played by another “MMA fighter” (unfortunately) named Myle Pyle, a John Cena lookalike with 1/12th of his talent. John Scenic does some criminally boring fighting too, keeping things soldiering on in a universally lame manner.

Van Damme looks as bored in the film as we are, so when we get the climactic 20-minute (!) non-stop Van-Dolph fight scene, we’re just too disengaged to care. This is a plodding, drab soiled raincoat of a motion picture. It seems all director John Hyams (son of frequent Van-Conspirator Peter Hyams) aimed to do with this film is make us believe that “MMA Fighters” have the on-screen talent of professional wrestlers. They don’t, and if you’ve ever seen Thunder in Paradise you know what an incredibly mean thing that is to say. It’s bad. Van bad. A Van disappointment. This franchise will likely see a sudden death as any further replicants will seem like just another knock off. While a good time with Van Damme shouldn’t be a hard target, any quest ending with this death warrant of a movie runs the maximum risk of having nowhere to run for entertainment in Hell.

We give Universal Soldier: Regeneration a 2 out of 5.

BONUS BEAT – Dolph Lundgren sings Elvis, plays drums and breaks ice –

Until next time…let’s agree to agree!

*No, seriously.

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