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.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Universal Soldier: Regeneration (2009)

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Universal Soldier: Regeneration is set to be released on February 2nd, but thanks to RepoGenetic, one of our readers, we have an early screening, so I can give you my review before it's released. This is a first at the DTVC.

Universal Soldier: Regeneration is about a Russian separatist group that uses a Universal Soldier, played by Andrei "The Pit Bull" Arlovski, to kidnap the Prime Minister's kids. When the US government sends some of their own and they fail, they realize they have to call in the best, Van Damme. This is a bit of an issue, because a psychiatrist in Switzerland is trying to make him a normal member of society. It's only an issue to pad out the film, of course, and he eventually saves the day. Oh, and Dolph Lundgren's in this for the last 30 minutes.

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If this wasn't billed as a Van Damme Dolph Lundgren flick, it wouldn't have been that bad. Problem is, it was, and was only able to deliver on a Dolph and Van Damme bait-and-switch. This was supposed to be a big deal for the Muscles from Brussels, and he's maybe in it for half the film, and of that, much of it is spent in a lab or doing Rorschach tests. The lack of Dolph hurt more, because his two or three scenes were great. I could see Van Damme being afraid that Dolph would show him up, but it was even worse because Dolph had only a fraction of the screen time he did, and he still delivered a more entertaining performance.

I'm not sure if you've seen the trailer, but you can check it out here. It gives the impression that a good chunk of the film is Van Damme fighting both Dolph and Arlovski. The truth is that's only the last 15 minutes or so. It's like they took everything that made the first one great, and replaced it with a lot of blah, and hoped that last fifteen would be enough. It was like buying a bag of Doritos and finding out most of the bag was filled with foam packing peanuts. It's amazing how if that happened at the store, we'd be up in arms and demand our money back, but when a movie does it we have no recourse. I'm not saying those few Doritos at the bottom weren't great as always, I'm just saying if I paid for what I think is a full bag of Doritos, and if the bag tells me there's a full bag of Doritos in there, if most of the bag is packing peanuts, I'm pissed.

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If in my top ten DTV films of the 2000s I said Dolph answered the challenge of Steven Seagal's entry into the world of DTV action and retained his throne, Dolph started off 2010 showing Van Damme what's up too. At the 30 minute mark, when he makes his first appearance, it's like a dad going outside to show the neighborhood kids how to really play football. "You kids are cute trying to make your little DTV actioner, but let Daddy show you how it's really done." It's hard for me, because I've never had to deal with a Dolph bait-and-switch before, so I don't know how to feel. I mean, I guess with all the films he's done recently, something had to give-- one of them had to have less of him than the others-- it's just the dishonesty that irks me. Say in the trailer and on the cover "And a special appearance by Dolph Lundgren". I mean, that's all it was, not a starring role by any stretch.

And Van Damme wasn't in it much more than Dolph. Like Dolph, his only good scenes come at the very end too. He has one early where he beats up the mob boss from Direct Contact, but that's just him beating on a defenseless bar owner. His fight scenes with Dolph and Arlovski were good, but kind of muted because the guys were all wearing bulky army suits. See Jean-Claude, fight scenes aren't shot with shirtless actors in order to show off their pecs to the ladies, they're also shot that way to make it easier for the actors to move, which makes the action better. They might as well have been fighting in Godzilla suits here.

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Now don't get me wrong, this had plenty of bright spots. The fight between Dolph and Van Damme had an amazing ending that I won't give away. Arlovski's fighting translated very well on-screen from it's UFC roots. I actually saw him in real life at Mohegan Sun in 2005 when he fought at UFC 55 and defended his title in 15 seconds against Paul Buentello. He ate at the same restaurant me and my buddy ate at. Anyway, the story itself and direction wasn't that bad for a DTV actioner. Had they been a little more honest with how they were going to use Dolph Lundgren, I might not have been as hard on it. Sure, it was plenty silly and unrealistic, but that stuff's okay. One other thing that wasn't, though: this tool bag army dude who gets killed by Arlovski seems like the guy Dolph and Van Damme were supposed to be passing the torch to for any future Universal Soldier films, as he's shown in the Universal Soldier program at the end. Not only that, but this tool bag was in the film more than Dolph and Van Damme, which hurt my sensibilities. (I want to make clear, I don't think the actor personally was a tool bag, just the character.)

Final verdict: as a DTV actioner on its own, you could do a lot worse; but as a Van Damme or Dolph film, it sucked hardcore. I've been around this DTV block plenty of times, as have a lot of our readers, and lying to them about who's in the film and for how long is a bad move. It's one thing to pull a Rutger Hauer or Gary Busey bait-and-switch, but to do it with Dolph is just evil. Not only that, but it wrecks any credibility you might have with a movie that wasn't that bad.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1288403/

17 comments:

  1. I was expecting this review from you Matt! Too bad to hear it aint as good as the original, but by now, the Universal Soldier movies have been watered down in the same way that the Highlander movies have been watered down.

    They are cheap pale imitations of the original. But still, Im curious as hell to see these old dudes kicking each others asses one last time. I cant believe they didnt try and make more money out of this movie by releasing it in a bigger way. I mean, this is going theatrical right?

    Looking forward to The Expendables!

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  2. No theatrical release, February 2nd is the DVD date. You will like the end for the old guys kicking each other's asses, because that's not bad, and I mean the film wasn't horrible for a DTV actioner, it was just the Dolph bait-and-switch that irked me, so you never know... definitely still a pale imitation of the original though, so to use a Highlander analogy, somewhere between Part three and Endgame in terms of quality compared to the original, but probably should've been as good as Endgame with the talent involved.

    I agree on The Expendables, that should be good.

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  3. You gotta remember if not for Van Damme...Dolph would not have been in it at all. I have to see it later as my connection to screeners is out (I'm like the old school universal soldier....in that i'm obsolete, so companies no longer give me the screeners like The Order,Last Lives,Moving Target(Dragon),Last Warrior and Bloodsport 4.)Indeed all my screeners were VHS...For time truly waits for no man. The truly hard part for me is the way all video stores are shutting down around me and I hate the format of Net Flix. Now if NetFlix had all movies no exceptions (Even if on VHS) But ergo I expected that this sequel would pull the bait and switch especially with Van Damme and Lundgren getting up there

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  4. I don't receive screeners either, but that would be really cool if I did. Then I wouldn't be waiting for Netflix to send me the Marine 2. I'm beginning to come around to your way of thinking on that. While Netflix has quite a few titles to offer, the fact that they own plenty of others, but can't rent them out because their out of print irks me. They are starting to offer some of those on Watch Instantly, but in some cases those are only available for a limited time, like Maniac Cop or Enter the Ninja.

    I agree that it was Van Damme who got Dolph into the movie, but Dolph really does out shine him. What Van Damme lacks over Seagal and Dolph is the ability to have fun with the movie. I totally understand being a serious actor in JCVD, but in Universal Soldier: Regeneration, you gotta lighten up dude. Maybe he'll learn that soon.

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  5. Don't act so surprised, we knew for a long time that Dolph was only 5 days on the set and then shot ICARUS and THE EXPENDABLES back to back. He couldn't do more than that, and plus he turned this down first so we almost didn't even make it into this film!

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  6. In response to your "don't act so surprised" comment, I took this directly from my review: "I guess with all the films he's done recently, something had to give-- one of them had to have less of him than the others-- it's just the dishonesty that irks me. Say in the trailer and on the cover 'And a special appearance by Dolph Lundgren'."

    Also, not everyone who reads this blog is up on the amount of time Dolph spends on his various shoots, so it's up to me to let them know when a bait and switch is afoot; and in the world of DTV, five days can be a lot-- whole movies have been shot in that time. Again, I have no problem with the amount of Dolph in this, it's the amount of Dolph this advertises as being in it that isn't there that's the issue.

    I think you have to remember that all the info you gave in your comment is information the average person doesn't have, and what sucks is this film is banking on that. Even Van Damme wasn't in it that much. A scam is a scam, and for me to sit there and say "well, we all knew Dolph was busy" would be doing a disservice to the people who read this. I can't let a fraud off the hook like that.

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  7. Yeah I got ya, sorry if my comment seemed a little rude, it's not what I meant. That said it's not surprising though that the studio would take advantage of his name and bill him like Van Damme because they're definitely not only big DTV stars but they sell the "Universal Soldier" franchise and well this sequel was meant to make money first (which is why Van Damme and Dolph turned it down first, but thankfully the director meant well and it turned out great (I didn't care for it when it was announced).

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  8. Yeah I got ya, sorry if my comment seemed a little rude, it's not what I meant. That said it's not surprising though that the studio would take advantage of his name and bill him like Van Damme because they're definitely not only big DTV stars but they sell the "Universal Soldier" franchise and well this sequel was meant to make money first (which is why Van Damme and Dolph turned it down first, but thankfully the director meant well and it turned out great (I didn't care for it when it was announced).

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  9. No no, I didn't mean to come off defensive, and I didn't think you were being rude, I just felt I needed to make the point that, expected or not, like you said, DTV movies trade on these guys' names often, and I needed to make it clear to everyone that that's what happened here. It's a common issue with actors like Rutger Hauer, who will be in the movie for like five minutes, but his name will be all over the cover. In the case of Universal Soldier: Regeneration, it's an even bigger deal, because a lot of my readers are big Dolph fans and were looking forward to this, I needed to get the word out that, despite the cover and trailer, there isn't much Dolph here.

    Anyway, sorry if I came off defensive, it wasn't your comment, but more that I felt like the movie was a scam and needed to be treated as such, even if it shouldn't have come as a surprise. I'm glad you commented, and don't hesitate to comment in the future-- we probably could've used your warning beforehand about him only being on the set for five days to temper our excitement for it.

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  10. No worries, I've been reading your blog every now and then I love what you're doing with it!

    Where I don't feel too much cheated with US:R is that to my surprise, as a whole the movie actually worked, I was into it, even almost cringing, and not just waiting for VD and Dolph to appear. And I find amazing that with the little amount that he has, Dolph steals the show and gives his character a soul, like a tragic existentialist character much like BLADE RUNNER's Rutger Hauer actually!

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  11. I felt kind of the same way about it not being that bad of a movie, but it was still lacking something. Arlovski, Van Damme, and especially Dolph, all looked great fighting on screen, which just led me to think what if? At the very least, what if Van Damme and Arlovski fought more-- maybe not each other, but had more scenes. And the bulky suits, though maybe more realistic, detracted from the martial arts-- and should we be worrying about realism when Dolph is cloned? I agree about Dolph's performance too, and I get the sense that part of that comes from the fact that he's the one person not taking himself too seriously.

    I'm glad you dig the blog. Don't hesitate to come back and tell us what you think in the future.

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  12. It WAS kinda blah, but I still loved seeing the band back together- "Hey, I just remembered what I was gonna tell you" LOL. Anyway, that douchebag army guy I couldn't take seriously, especially with that accent. I could totally dig Arlovsky coming back for a sequel though. I loved seeing him go Mark Kerr on people's asses. No matter what people are gonna complain about with this one, barring Michael Jai White, still a thousand times better than 'Unisol: the Return.'

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  13. Yeah, I think everyone's in agreement, as far as a Universal Soldier sequel goes, this was the best-- or least bad-- of them. Hopefully Arlovski will do more movies, because in films he can deliver all the flying knees he wants without worrying someone will punch him in the face.

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  14. Director John Hyams is doing a new action flick... With Peter Weller! Its called Dragon Eyes.

    http://imdb.com/title/tt1735862/

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  15. That's awesome, I haven't done a Weller movie in a while. Thanks for that.

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  16. Just discovered your blog and loving it...it's great company on my morning commute. It's disappointing to hear that this Universal Soldier flick blows. When are you going to do Universal Soldier II: The Return? I always found that one to be enjoyably goofy and I would be interested to hear what you thought of it.

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  17. Hey thanks man, that's excellent, glad I could be of service. Again, this movie wasn't so bad, it's just not good as either a Van Damme or Dolph flick, and that's the whole point of watching the movie. It has its moments with them, but overall, it wasn't the gem the first movie was.

    I do plan to do the two TV sequels at some point, especially because they have Gary Busey and Jeff Wincott in them. Hopefully I'll get to them sooner rather than later.

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