Film Review: Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning

Just because fans expect more of the same out of action sequels doesn&#8217;t mean <i>Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning</i> has to feel as familiar as this.

It takes under two hours for Scott Adkins’ character in Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning to kill about as many people as Freddy has in his Nightmare on Elm Street movies, and like Freddy’s film career, this sequel has peaks and valleys. As a matter of fact, the opening scenes of Day of Reckoning show the same ambition that made the first Nightmare intriguing, but part of what made that an excellent horror film was that it broke new ground in the genre. Day of Reckoning lacks the skill to do the same, and its dependence on the genre’s typical tricks doesn’t help. After five previous movies in the franchise, it may be time to lay down the weapons.

The drama kicks off with a break-in that results in the deaths of John’s (Adkins) daughter and wife and puts him in a coma. Though he doesn’t remember much when he awakens, he helps FBI agent Gorman (Rus Blackwell) identify the man responsible for the whole bloody affair as Luc Deveraux (Jean-Claude Van Damme), a military madman the government’s been chasing since he split and developed a cult with fellow Universal Soldiers hell-bent on seizing control of the country. It’s uncanny that he can recognize the guy by looking at a photograph of him in a ski mask, but whatever.

John’s coma’s compromised his memory to the point where he can’t recall ever coming across stripper Sarah (Mariah Bonner), let alone that brawl she says he started when he caught another man ogling her. Considering everything she’s helped him remember, she’s better company than Andrew Scott (Dolph Lundgren), one of Deveraux’s aggressive cohorts.

John spends most of his time and energy on Magnus (Andrei Arlovski), a sleeper-cell agent who does Deveraux’s dirty work. You’d think it’d be easy to duke it out with somebody foolish enough to choose an ax over the many firearms available, but since John’s the sort of guy who’d punch a bowling ball to smithereens rather than tilt back when he flings it, each of their scenes together feels like a duel between Dumb and Dumber.

At least they’re a blast to watch, probably because director John Hyams has a knack for cerebral imagery. He manages to get agreeable performances out of the cast, even if Van Damme’s underwhelming acting is at a right angle with the material.