Seventh installment in 'Universal Soldier' franchise packed with action, not much else

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Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
Andrew Scott (Dolph Lundgren) has a smashing time in “Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning.”

As someone whose experience with the “Universal Soldier” franchise is limited to 3 a.m. channel-surfing and Wikipedia, I feel qualified to say that the seventh film in the franchise, “Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning” makes absolutely no sense. It appears to be totally unrelated to the other films in the franchise and a complete reversal of the story so far. Even though it is a mostly nonsensical mystery stringing together memorable action scenes, it never fails to entertain.

In an impressively staged first person-POV opener, John (Scott Adkins) wakes up in the middle of the night just in time to see his entire family murdered by former franchise protagonist Luc Deveraux (Jean-Claude Van Damme). Nine months later, he rouses from a coma and starts hunting for Deveraux, bouncing between locations and action sequences in something resembling a narrative.

Unfortunately, John’s search for his family’s killer is deeply uninteresting, and gets more and more far-fetched as he starts to piece his past together. While the film’s clichés include a stripper with a heart of gold and massive government conspiracies, once it starts asking you to swallow brainwashing, cloning and mind control, it’s hard not to become thankful for the
action sequences.

But they certainly do make the film worth watching. It seems like a massive chunk of the film’s budget was poured into making the action beats distinct and impressive. Even when the storyline doesn’t make a bit of sense and you’re not sure who you should actually be rooting for, each and every fight scene is a standout. A brutal showdown in a sporting goods store is full of creative sight gags and the climactic bloodbath is consistently satisfying, making the red herrings and plot contrivances that inspire them almost worthwhile.

In the original film, Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren were the stars, but at this point, both actors have only brief appearances as antagonists. The former headliners get some generic speechifying and a few great action beats, but neither really seems to know what they’re doing here, and “Day of Reckoning” doesn’t seem sure either. Instead, Adkins takes the reins, and while he’s an impressive fighter, he’s also a wooden, unconvincing actor who renders much of the film’s drama inept.

“Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning” is by no means intelligent or cohesive, but it’s still directed with enough momentum from new series frontman John Hyams that it’s hard to not enjoy on some level. Laughable acting and damnable logic aside, it’s still a well-paced and exciting sequel to a franchise that should have run out of steam long ago.

Printed on Friday, November 30, 2012 as: 'Universal Soldier' pairs fast action, bad acting