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.

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Announcement

Hi everyone, it's been a while since I checked the page, and I wanted to make a few announcements.

First and foremost, it appears a dubious site has claimed the old url, meaning any link in any review that goes to the old mattmovieguy url is corrupt. I'm in the process of trying to remove them all, but it's a lot! It's best not to click on any link without hovering over it first to make sure it doesn't have mattmovieguy in the url.

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Thank you all for your patience, and again, hopefully this will all be fixed soon.

--Matt

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (2012)

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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/

15 comments:

  1. Excellent review! Can't wait to see this...Happy it's worth-watching. Hope to catch the uncut version. That version is supposedly on Comcast On Demand in the U.S.

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    1. Oh really? Unfortunately my digital box is shite, and On Demand doesn't work for me. My buddy was telling me Chances Are w/ Cybill Shepherd and Robert Downey Jr. was on there too, and I was so pissed. Maybe I need to go down to the office and get that fixed. I think you'l' really enjoy this though Ty.

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  2. Yeah! I totally agree with you! Just love this crazy badass movie!

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    1. Yeah, I was really happy with it-- maybe even pleasantly surprised!

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  3. I think you touched on everything perfectly with this one. I thought it was great, and just insanely intense. The score, or lack thereof, the insane amount of violence and Hyams inventive direction all stood out. But Adkins really surprised the hell out of me in this. If this doesn't prove he can carry a big budget action film, I don't know what will. The guy has got something and I hope the rest of the world sees that soon.

    Lundgren and Van Damme were just great, even in their limited screen time. I love how this doesn't feel like an action film at all. To me it seemed more of a hybrid of action/horror/suspense thriller.

    But I do have one question. I'm not familiar with any of the sequels other than "Regeneration". So I'm confused as to what they really are or if this story is really in any way associated with the original film. Why or how is he this "Brando from Apocalypse Now" type of character and evil all of a sudden? From what I remember he wasn't evil in "Regeneration", though I only saw it once a while ago. And is it me or was he just human in this?

    Great review!!!!

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    1. Thanks man. I just watched The Return, which is technically considered part 2, and it doesn't fit with parts 1, 3, & 4. The sense I got was that Hyams wanted Van Damme's part to be ambiguous in this one because he wanted to tell it from Adkins's point of view, and for him, Van Damme killed his family, so he seems more evil. After that, I think Van Damme's character was tired of being a universal soldier, realized he couldn't live a normal life, and wanted to die, which was a good way for Van Damme to kill him off. Contrast this with Dolph's character, who reveled in being a universal soldier. I remember in the extras, Hyams said he changed the universal soldiers' vulnerabilities because they're clones, so they die easier, which makes them seem more human, though I may have heard that wrong.

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  4. Great movie. The car chase with Arlovski before the fight in the sports store is the best I've seen in a while. I think both universal soldier 3 & 4 are awesome, really two of the best action movies made in a long time. Also I hate the overuse of CGI in movies these days but I think the way it is used here (only when really needed, and when you can hardly notice it) is excellent.

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  5. Awesome review. I loved it as well. Dtv actioners are what I like to call "organic" action movies. Limited CGI or none at all. Scott Adkins is ready for his own movie. Even Randy Couture has one!

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  6. Great review Matt. Completely agree with you. This was a crazy movie with tons of ambition. It blew my mind. It's like Hyams took Universal Soldier, Apocalypse Now, The Shining, The Parallax View, Rambo, Blade Runner put them in a blender.

    I'd love Hyams to carry on making arty/esoteric DTV sequels to forgotten franchises. Seriously I really hope Hollywood doesn't try and poach him because I think they'd tone his style down.

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  7. Great point Stu and Bryan about the CGI. They actually discussed how they wanted to mix in limited amounts of CGI to buttress the film effects, which I agree, worked really well. And I gotta say, Jack, with the trend toward a larger DTV market, and with bigger actors going DTV, I have a feeling he won't stray too far from DTV and making the pictures he wants to make. Let's hope anyway.

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  8. Glad you liked this one as much as me mate. One of the best DTV action films in years, I thought. Exactly the kind of angle this series needed to take. And you are right, the fight in the sporting goods store was just epic.

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    1. Oh yeah, so good. I can only imagine how amazing that was to see on the big screen.

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    2. Oh it was killer. The only thing I didn't like about seeing it on the big screen were the *SPOILER* rapid-fire flickering white screen scenes when the mind control took over. That shit nearly gave me a seizure.

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  9. great review. loved this also. very dark but the action was excellent. still think Regeneration is the better film but this one a least has a bald Van Damme with scary make up on, which you don't see very often! weird...

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  10. Watched it a few days ago....Awesome movie. Like you said, if only all DTV movies had this much ambition?

    BTW, I've just posted a link for the new Seagal / Rhames / Trejo vehicle 'FORCE OF EXECUTION' on my page....Check it out!

    (Oh yeah, and great review....as always!)

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