After having watched The Movie Channel's two -- yes,
two -- sequels to the 1992 film Universal Soldier, the question that pops into my
head for the producers is the one that Jay Leno once put to Hugh Grant: "What the
hell were you thinking?"
Universal Soldier, a Jean-Claude Van Damme theatrical
hit, was an action flick with an interesting premise: A top-secret government project
"reanimates" dead soldiers as "UniSols," or bionic killing machines,
for "the army of tomorrow."
But rather than extending that premise, the sequels -- Universal
Soldier II:Brothers in Arms and Universal Soldier III: Unfinished Business
-- mainly bulk up on mindless mayhem and turn the UniSols into glorified hoodlums and
Unfortunately, cable is fast becoming overpopulated with
low-grade action flicks like these, the main purpose of which seems to be to speed the
need for the V-chip. A few weeks ago, USA Network gave us the disappointing Blackjack,
with Dolph Lundgren, and last fall, Turner Network Television starred wrestler Hulk Hogan
in the first of a promised series of "TNT Nitro Originals."
True, the Universal Soldier sequels' executive
producers, Kevin Gillis and John Laing, did try to develop a brotherly love angle -- which
might have worked with a better script than the one by Peter (Demolition Man)
Lenkov, and with actors who had the range to pull it off. And Gillis' past credits (Robocop:
The Series, F/X The Series) aren't known for great acting.
Van Damme isn't known for his acting prowess, either,
but he brought more charisma to the role of Luc than Matt Battaglia does. Ditto Ally
Walker of NBC's Profiler, whose role of TV-news reporter has been assumed on
TMC by Chandra West.
Jeff Wincott, a buff action-movie veteran, contributes
little as Luc's brother, Eric. And in the first sequel, Gary Busey doesn't stray
far from his psychotic role in Under Siege.
Burt Reynolds, who literally phoned in his cameo role as
Mentor in the first sequel, brought some nice touches of villainy to the second one --
along with an annoying Scottish brogue. Even more irritating are the songs, by such acts
as the aptly named Trash, that accompany the action sequences.
Universal Soldier III will premiere on TMC Oct. 24 at 9
p.m. and repeat in primetime Oct. 28, paired with Universal Soldier II, which bowed