Susan Granger’s review of “UNIVERSAL SOLDIER : THE RETURN” (TriStar)
When critics are banned from a movie in advance of its opening, you know there’s a problem – in this case, more than one. Back in 1992, “Universal Soldier” introduced hunky Jean-Claude Van Damme as Luc Deveraux, a Unisol, the recycled corpse of a soldier killed in Vietnam whose military motto is “Dying to Serve.” At the story’s end, Luc was just beginning to perceive human feelings and comprehend emotions. In this sequel, he’s developed into a “normal” human being – a bit stronger with bigger muscles and certainly a better fighter. Now, Luc’s a widower with a pre-teen daughter (Karis Paige Bryant). He serves as a technical expert on a new government project preparing a stronger breed of soldier that is more sophisticated, agile, and intelligent. All goes well until the soldiers’ supercomputer, in the human form of Michael Jai White, develops a maniacal mind of its own. Then it’s the Self-Evolving Thought Helix (acronym SETH) against Luc, whose only allies are Heidi Schanz, a tough-as-nails TV reporter, and Kiana Tom (ESPN fitness guru) as his training buddy. So what happens when the Muscles from Brussels faces off against an entire army of Unisols programmed to kill, kill, kill? Guess. Pow! Bam! Jab! Zap! Some of the plot absurdities include a pit stop at a sleazy strip club, the only place where they can find an Internet connection to access a secret code. Directed by Mic Rodgers, a former stunt coordinator, Jean-Claude’s acting technique has not improved noticeably, nor has his enunciation. At one point, he cautions his cohorts not to “peas damoff” – which translates to “piss them off,” but it takes a few moments to comprehend. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Universal Soldier: The Return” is a action-packed, homicidal 3 – aimed at diehard kickboxing fans.