Universal Soldier: The Return


Action (US); 1999; Rated R; 82 Minutes

Jean-Claude Van Damme: Luc Deveraux
Michael Jai White: S.E.T.H.
Heidi Schanz: Erin
Xander Berkeley: Dylan Cotner
Justin Lazard: Cpt. Blackburn

Produced by Craig Baumgarten, Daniel Melnick, Adam Merims, Richard G. Murphy, Michael I. Rachmil, Allen Shapiro, Bennett R. Specter and Jean-Claude Van Damme; Directed by Mic Rodgers; Screenwritten by William Malone and John Fasano

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Written by DAVID KEYES

I have a confession to make, and I fear it is one that will haunt me for years to come. First you must understand this: film critics have big egos, undoubtedly because they are sure they're always right. And that's understandable, too, if you think about it for awhile. After all, unless a critic feels all of his opinions are justifiable, no readers can take him or her seriously, and would not trust the recommendations. But what happens when one feels he has made a mistake? Can he make this proclamation to his readers? More importantly, can he even admit to himself that he was wrong?

I've stood by every one of my opinions, no matter how highly they were challenged. In addition, I have never once walked out of a film. I've sat and watched every last second unfold, no matter how displeasing they got. I saw "Meet The Deedles" without aspirin, "Krippendorf's Tribe" without covering my eyes, "Bulworth" without shedding tears, "Patch Adams" without inducing vomit, and "Let's Talk About Sex" without screaming obscenities. I have even sat through some of the most nefarious films ever made on more than one occasion, either because I was forced to do so, or was looking for some shred of redeeming value I might have missed somewhere along the lines. That's because I have high tolerance for cinematic stupidity. You have to if you expect to survive critiquing movies. Says so in the rules.

But alas, every critic, at some point in their life, must be confronted with the question--is there a film so bad out there that it cannot be sat through on the first occasion? Can you find it in yourself to admit you were wrong in seeing it in the first place? A couple of weeks ago, I was met at the crossroads with this agonizing skepticism. "Universal Soldier: The Return" is the first movie I have ever seen that has encouraged me to walk out free of guilt: a generic film so rehashed from moronic material and stupid, low-quality direction that it is perhaps the most appalling piece of work ever to hit theaters screens--maybe even worse than typical direct-to-video material.

The movie is consumed by repeating formulas, illogical twists, depthless action sequences and artificial character roles. Seeing them unfold was like living a nightmare. Questions raced through my head: what am I even doing here? Should I finish it? Am I to forever be damned by this almost unsavable caricature? I stepped out shortly afterwards, still pondering the possibilities, or the results, that could have come in the last half of the picture. I was amazed at the fact that a film managed to influence my decision to leave. It has never happened before. But I do not doubt for an instance that the footage I missed was just as bad. Everything about it is likely some of the most ill-conceived material that has ever been seen by human eyes. It may just very well be the worst film ever made. To think that some living soul on this earth thought that it deserved to be played on reputable movie screens is disturbing.

What gets me all riled up is not even the fact that I wasted my time with this travesty. It is the fact that the film has supporters--some of which I have reasonably trusted over the years. By that, I mean critics, and not just Online ones. A simple disagreement is exemplified as follows: with "Universal Soldier: The Return," I feel that a viewer's valuable time will be squandered. One critic believes "it is solid B-Movie entertainment, and therefore deserves to be seen." Another critic argues, "it's only 82 minutes long. How are people going to waste time with that many minutes?"

But let's analyze this situation a little more closely. The movie is 82 minutes. Say that 8,000 people see the picture its opening weekend. Multiply those numbers. Doesn't look so pleasing, now does it? The result is a vast throwaway of personal, and potentially valuable, time. In that period, we could have found cures for diseases, saw more important movies, or even went out and got jobs to pay for the money we had already lost on films like "The Sixth Sense" and "Detroit Rock City."

Plot descriptions, character discussions, and simple criticisms are redundant here. I cannot review the film because of the circumstances. But nonetheless, what I'm asking here is not so much a recommendation as it is a desperate request. Please, even if it means offsetting a planned schedule, do not see this movie. It could be the biggest mistake of your life. I should know: I made it.

1999, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org. Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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