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Ten Word or Less Review: If Van Damme made David Lynch direct his movie.

Most of my Sunday evenings are spent hanging out with a couple of friends.  We watch movies too embarrassing to admit to seeing to anyone beyond those in the room.  I never write about these movies.  It’s tantamount to drunk texting someone.  You just embarrass yourself for doing it and the person reading it simply loses respect for you.  But embarrassment be damned, I feel oddly compelled to say something about Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning.  It’s certainly not good, but it’s definitely too damn odd to not say nothing.

In case you didn’t keep up, don’t worry no one did, there are now 6 movies under the Universal Soldier banner.  I didn’t realize that the original 1992 Van Damme/Lundgren effort had been quite so prolific.  21 years after that marginally noticed sci-fi effort the franchise now keeps chugging along with straight to DVD releases featuring a haggard looking Van Damme and a leathery Lundgren.  99 out of 100 times movies like this are terminally boring but director John Hyams had a moment of inspiration, maybe after making the last awful entry in this series, try to make an art house flick instead of a run of the mill kicks and guns movie that ends in an abandoned warehouse.  Instead of the usual dreary exercise in B-movie action shit, he decided to get in touch with his inner David Lynch.  He locked himself in a room with the Lynch movie library playing on a loop for a week straight, with extra Lost Highway viewings, and then set out to make Day of Reckoning, fresh, dream-like perversions in mind.

The first 30-40 minutes of Reckoning are pure Lynch inspired territory.  The movie sets up a dark, grim and thoroughly anxiety inducing atmosphere.  Some scenes may induce epileptic fits in more sensitive viewers.  When a character goes into a strip bar I figured I’d see Bill Pullman raging on a sax in back.  Van Damme eventually starts showing up in white face kabuki makeup.  It’s a bad acid trip of movie making and one has no choice but to be kind of impressed that such genuine psychedelic effort is being exerted in pursuit of what should be nothing more than a cynical, soulless action movie no one but the most undemanding moron would like.  The outbursts of violence are extreme and brutal and there’s just no pussy footing around anything.  It’s gory and harsh and the idea that someone has finally broken this repetitious action movie cycle starts to creep into your head as a real possibility.  But then reality sets in, nothing happens for too long and the freaky atmosphere runs itself into the ground.  With no real story or screenplay to get into, it all adds up to an extravagant zilch.

With all the weirdo quirks and oddities failing to amount to anything, you slowly realize a sense of tedium creeping into the thing and before long it’s killed itself.  In the unforgivable sin department Van Damme and Lundgren are no more than glorified cameos, leaving starring duties to some dude named Scott Atkins.  Looking at his IMDB resume it looks like he’s making a name for himself in the straight to On-Demand action market.  Meaning he’s a glorified stunt man asked to kick and punch and not gum up the works with creaky line readings or emotions.  I see exercise videos in his future.  A finale featuring Van Damme done up as a Col. Kurtz inspired loon, bald head painted with black/white makeup, almost brings it back to that fringe where it wanted to live, but it’s not enough.

There are some admirable and viscous fight scenes here, the punched bowling ball bit was a riot, and the warped presentation feels fresh for a while, but before long the same sensation of dull, crappy action flick weariness settles in for the remainder with just a different presentation.  Still, there’s a lesson to be learned here.  If you’re tasked with directing a shitty action movie sequel with a dopey subtitle, go for broke.  There’s absolutely nothing to lose.  All movies like this suck regardless so do your damnedest to make it as odd as possible.  The worst thing that can happen is that someone notices that you made something someone might remember after hitting the stop button.



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