The Direct to Video Connoisseur
I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (2012)
When last we left this franchise, I was less than stoked with the Dolph Lundgren and Jean-Claude Van Damme bait-and-switch that I felt had been perpetrated on me. Okay, that's not entirely true, we were looking at the two made-for-TV sequels, but when we last left this franchise with Dolph and Van Damme, that's where we were. I went into this new one more okay with the potential for a bait-and-switch, and I was hoping the addition of Scott Adkins would mitigate any issues I might have with said bait-and-switch. Then there was the near 2-hour running time: that was a little daunting, but as the DTVC, I was ready to climb that mountain.
Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning stars Scott Adkins as a family man whose home is invaded by Van Damme and some thugs, and his wife and daughter brutally murdered in front of him. After recovering from a coma, an FBI agent tells him who Van Damme is, and he searches him out for revenge. At the same time, Van Damme and Dolph have teamed up, and are recruiting other government universal soldiers to their cause. What is their goal? Who knows, but somehow Mr. Adkins and they are on a collision course to wackiness.
So yes, we again had limited scenes with Dolph and Van Damme, but Adkins as the lead more than mitigated that issue. In the behind the scenes extras, director and writer John Hyams said he understood that the film hinged on who they cast for that part, and he was right, because without Adkins I think I'm here again complaining that there wasn't enough Dolph and Van Damme. Beyond getting past the bait-and-switch, I can say we also had an all around better picture than the one before it. The fight scenes were excellent, including one between Adkins and Andrei The Pitbull Arlovski in a sporting goods shop that was what I've been looking for from the 21st century DTV action flick, totally inspired and next level. Also, we had a great Noir-ish amnesiac storyline featuring Adkins that really kept me wanting to figure out what was going to happen next, which, again, wasn't anywhere in the previous film. Also, this was a lot darker, but not in a faux-edge grafted in torture scene kind of way. The whole thing was macabre, bloody, and violent, and it all worked for me, even as squeamish as I am, because it was always there. Hyams hits a home run here, he gets it right everywhere, which is refreshing and exciting considering what we usually see in the modern DTV action world.
While Dolph only has, as far as I can tell, three scenes, they're all great. (Also, in the commentary he does with John Hyams, we find out there was another scene that was cut.) His first one involves a great fight with Arlovski, which looks spectacular between the set, Dolph's wardrobe, and the way he and Arlovski get after it. Then he has a speech to the other universal soldiers in the "can you dig it?" mold that only he could've pulled off, and he does. Then there's his fight with Adkins, which is equal parts awesome and Dolph providing comic relief. If you check out the extras it gets even better. In one, the director tells him that his image on screen will become Van Damme's, and he says "I turn into Jean-Claude? Then you'll have to move the camera down here." We also get to see his process in making fight scenes. The guy's muscle memory is so acute, he picks up the choreography quickly, which allows them to go that next level with his scenes. Again, just proving why he's the Babe Ruth of DTV. (And if you watch the film with he and Hyams doing commentary, while he says at the beginning he's only going to be there for the first 30 minutes, he actually stays for the whole thing, and he's great.)
I'm going to save my paragraph on the film's other Hall of Famer, Van Damme, for the seventh paragraph, because it contains spoilers, but if you're curious and haven't seen this yet, he was great as well, and well worth watching this film for. Let's look at Scott Adkins though. With so many of our big action names in their 50s and 60s, there's been a push to get to the next generation. While Adkins doesn't have a name from a previous career that DTV distributors like to throw on the covers of their films to sell them, for us cats who know and buy this stuff, he's as good as it gets right now, and we're all excited to see what he has coming next. His fight with Arlovski was, as I said above, next level stuff; his fights with Dolph and Van Damme more than fulfilled my expectations; and then his big one where he's taking out a bunch of universal soldiers was fantastic too. We found out in the extras that he did this on a torn ACL-- that includes a sweet frankensteiner! Maybe he doesn't have a name from a previous career, but he's building a great current one for himself, and this one performance was a really solid addition to his CV.
Arlovski was a house as well-- as you may have noticed when I brought him up in two separate fight scenes above. I don't think he has any dialog, which might make him all the more imposing. On top of the scenes I mentioned, he does one with Roy Jones Jr.-- yes, that Roy Jones Jr.-- which was really cool, with Roy delivering some nice punches. In the extras, they talked about how Arlovski was up for anything, and while I don't know if he can carry a film on his own the way Adkins can, as a baddie like this, he's great. A few other things from the extras: the director was afraid to ask Roy Jones Jr. to do the scene, because it would be his only one and he just gets his ass kicked, but he was all about it, even driving from Pensacola, FL to Baton Rouge to do it; and our friend Simon at Explosive Action (who was lucky enough to see a big screen screening of this!) said this was edited for the US market, and I couldn't believe him because it was pretty bloody to begin with, but in the extras we see an effect where a dummy Arlovski is smashed in the head with a baseball bat by Adkins, and the head explodes-- that was cut in the version I saw.
SPOILER ALERT!!!! SPOILER ALERT!!!! SPOILER ALERT!!!! SPOILER ALERT !!!!
I know with that picture above, you're expecting a great comedic paragraph on how Van Damme was auditioning to Lucas to be Lucas-ed in as Anakin Skywalker in the next Return of the Jedi re-edit; but that can only go too far, and I wanted to address how Van Damme goes out in this flick. They go with a Heart of Darkness approach, where Van Damme channels his inner Brando, and after a fight, gives up and allows Adkins to kill him. According to Hyams, Van Damme made him rewrite it multiple times. One could make the argument that he didn't want to go out in a way that makes it look like he got beaten because he's an egomaniac; but I think that Van Damme has earned the right to lose the way he wants to lose in a movie like this, and it fits with his character that he'd have been sick of being a universal soldier, and needed Adkins to give him the warrior's death that he deserved. The whole thing worked for me, and I have no complaints.
END SPOILER!!!! END SPOILER!!!! END SPOILER!!!! END SPOILER!!!!
Let's wrap this up, because this has become a big post. As you've probably figured out, I'm exceedingly happy with this movie. Yes, it was a little gorier than I like, but it was a gory that worked, along with everything else. The actors, the direction, the cinematography-- none of that gimmicky shaky cam--, the fights, the story, it was all great. If more DTV actioners could get it half as right as this did, I think we'd all be a lot happier.
For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1659343/