(In French, On Cable TV, February 2017) “Utter and unmitigated trash” is a good starting point for discussing the low-budget sci-fi/action bunch of nonsense that is Universal Soldiers: The Return. Boldly presenting a story that has been done dozens of time before (i.e.; super-soldiers causing more trouble than they’re worth), this is a film that lurches from one ill-conceived sequence to the other, never straying too far from exploitation, familiar shootouts and that elusive but unmistakable stench of late-nineties bad action movies. An all-evil Artificial Intelligence is thrown into the mix for no other reason than “hey, why not?” The rest is just noise and flames and terminal boredom. Jean-Claude van Damme can’t save the mess, and neither can Kiana Tom nor Heidi Schanz as the female counterbalance to a testosterone-drenched film. It’s almost unbearably dull despite the explosions, shootouts, strip clubs and artificial intelligence working to enslave mankind (or something like that). It’s so bad that even the direct-to-video sequels ignored it. You might as well stay away.
(On Cable TV, June 2013) I have only seen two films directed by John Hyams (Dragon Eyes being the first one), and I’m already developing a bit of a dislike for his work. While I can appreciate his eye for good cinematography and strong action sequences, his obvious inability to deliver a coherent narrative is far more irritating than the amount of eye-candy he can deliver. Crucial narrative moments are missing, Intriguing ideas are abandoned as soon as they’re raised, and nothing seems to matter as much as the camera angles that he use. While action movies (and direct-to-DVD action movies in particular) have never been too strong on story, there are basic mandatory requirements than Hyams isn’t even meeting. The plot is a muddle of enhanced-soldier stuff overlaid with rogue agents, military conspiracies, fake memories and who know what else; it’s handled so badly that it’s hard to care about any of it. While Jean-Claude van Damme and Dolph Lundgren are hyped as being “back” in the series and the film, viewers should temper their expectations and expect merely a few unconnected quasi-cameo appearances. Scott Adkins handles protagonist duties, and the best one can say is that he does not embarrass himself. The same can’t be said about Hyams, who seriously needs some adult supervision before he’s allowed to mangle another script again.