December 9th, 2010

UNIVERSAL SOLDIER 2: “BROTHERS IN ARMS” (1998) ** ½

Universal Soldier 2:  “Brothers in Arms” is a movie that’s a lot more fun to review than it is to watch.  It’s a Made for The Movie Channel sequel that picks up exactly where the last movie ended.  Actually, it starts BEFORE the last movie ended as the beginning of this flick is actually the finale of the first one.  If you remember, that film ended with Jean Claude Van Damme fighting Dolph Lundgren and tossing him into a combine.  Except for Part 2 they couldn’t afford Jean Claude and Dolph, so they have two new actors going through the motions.  Now I’ve seen a lot of sequels that begin with the ending of the last film, but this is the first one I can remember where they recreate the scene with new actors.  The result is just fucking bizarre.  It’s like watching one of those actor dramatizations on America’s Most Wanted or something.

 

Weird.

 

Anyway, the plot has the former Universal Soldier Luc Devereaux, now played by Matt (WHO?) Battaglia (SERIOUSLY, WHO?), running off with the Annoying Reporter Lady (Chandra West) from the first film.  When Luc learns that his brother (Jeff Wincott) is also a Universal Soldier, he gets the Annoying Reporter Lady to help him break into the UniSol headquarters and rescue him.  Get it?  Luc and his brother are “Brothers in Arms”… LITERALLY.  So that’s why the subtitle of this movie is in quotations!

 

Now I’m not an Universal Solider expert or anything but I’m not quite sure if we should accept Universal Soldier 2 (as well as Universal Soldier 3) as canon or not.  Although it continues the characters and plot of the first film, it was made for The Fucking Movie Channel, so it’s pretty easy to dismiss.  Then again, when Van Damme did his sequels, there were no numbers in the titles, just one of those Colon Subtitle deals.  So I suppose you can see it either way.  You can accept Battaglia’s sequels as the true continuation if you were so inclined, or see Van Damme’s sequels as the real successors.  Or you could just say that these are legitimately Parts 2 and 3 and Van Damme’s The Return and Regeneration are 4 and 5.  That way die hard UniSol fans can have their cake and eat it too.

 

Matt Battaglia is positively awful in this movie.  He doesn’t have a shred of charisma or personality whatsoever.  I guess it makes sense because he’s playing an undead knucklehead, but even Van Damme brought a little something to the character.  This guy on the other hand makes JCVD look like Olivier.  You can tell the screenwriters were obviously writing this thing with Van Damme in mind because they gave Battaglia a lot of gratuitous butt shots, which is a Van Damme trademark.

 

You don’t need Battaglia (SERIOUSLY, WHO THE FUCK IS THIS GUY AND HOW DID THEY EVER THING HE COULD REPLACE VAN DAMME?) to have a good time with this flick.  And you want to know why?  Because you’ve got Burt Reynolds and Gary Busey as the villains… THAT’S WHY!

 

Burt is in full-on “I’ve got to pay Loni’s alimony in a hurry” mode here.  That is to say that he doesn’t appear onscreen very much but he’s still fun to watch.  It’s funny because they don’t have his name in the opening credits and keep him in the shadows for the most part.  I guess they did this to build up his surprise reveal at the end.  They kinda dropped the ball though because you can easily tell it’s Burt from the toupee and moustache in his silhouette.  It’s also funny that sometimes he seems to be using an Irish accent and other times he sounds vaguely Iranian and sometimes he doesn’t even bother with the accent!  This is classic late 90’s Burt right here folks.  Not many people can go from being nominated for an Oscar to starring in a Made for The Movie Channel Sequel in two years time; but that’s Burt for ya.

 

Then there’s Gary Busey.  Dear God, how I love The Busey.  He looks miserable in this movie but his misery makes for some classic bad cinema.  In his first scene, Busey shoots several soldiers (they’re his new UniSol “recruits”) and then sheds a tear.  I’m not sure if he’s crying because it’s part of his character or if he’s just sad that he’s starring in a cheap ass Made for The Movie Channel Sequel.  I’m guessing it’s the latter because later in the movie he just looks so miserable; like he can’t wait to punch his agent in the mouth or something.  He also couldn’t be very happy about his wardrobe.  With his extremely feathered hair and purple sweater and scarf, he looks like a lesbian cat lady or something.  That is to say, I laughed my fucking ass off.

 

It’s no secret that I thought the Annoying Reporter Lady in the first film pretty much capsized the whole deal.  The funny thing is that the Annoying Reporter Lady in this one isn’t a half bad actress.  If she had been cast in the first one instead of that other bimbo, we would’ve been okay.  In fact, I was so impressed with her performance that I’ll drop the “Annoying” and just refer to her as Reporter Lady for the duration of the review.

 

Universal Soldier 2:  “Brothers in Arms” is one of those bad movies that feature a buffet of so-bad-it’s-good and so-bad-it’s-bad moments.  In the so-bad-it’s-bad department, you’ve got some fundamental movie mistakes.  Like the overuse of slow motion.  It starts getting annoying after awhile when they start using it during inconsequential scenes.  I guess it’s acceptable to use slow motion when somebody like Gary Busey gets out of his helicopter but do you really need it when his underlings get out too? 

 

I also liked how all the scientists in the movie looked like they came out of a Vegas celebrity impersonator show.  The main scientist guy looked exactly like Eric Clapton and his wormy assistant looked a lot like Michael Stipe.  Because of their vaguely celebrity lookalike status, it makes all of their exposition heavy scenes tolerable.

 

Since the flick was made exclusively for The Movie Channel it has all of the budget and scope of a TV movie.  At all times, it looks like one of those Robocop or Crow TV shows that were re-edited into feature length movies.  (Well, I’ve never actually seen one of those Robocop and Crow TV movies, but I can imagine that they don’t look much worse than this.)

 

This movie is also notable because it exploits the Country Line Dancing phenomenon of the mid 90’s fairly nicely.  There’s a great scene where Luc goes into a redneck bar for some male bonding time with his brother and the camera keeps cutting away to a bunch of shit kickers doing the Boot Scoot Boogie.  Damn, I remember there was a time when people were apeshit for that crap.  My mom had like seven VHS tapes on How to Boot Scoot!  If Universal Soldier 2 fails as a legitimate sequel to the original, at least it’s a good time capsule that preserves Boot Scooting on film for the next generation.

 

So here’s the conundrum:  Universal Soldier 2:  “Brothers in Arms” is totally not a good movie but it is a solidly enjoyable Cheese Fest.  It’s a lot more fun than either of the Van Damme sequels, I know that.  So Two Stars for the movie, Three Stars for the cheese, that makes for about ** ½.

 

I know some people will be wary of me giving this flick the same rating as the original Universal Soldier, but in my defense, let me just say this.  You’re either the kind of person that gets jazzed when they hear the words “Burt Reynolds”, “Gary Busey”, and “Made for The Movie Channel Sequel” all in the same sentence or you aren’t.  All I’ve got to say is that I fall into the former category.  Where do you fall?

 

Reporter Lady gets the best line of the movie when she tells Luc, “You look like a G.I. Joe from Hell!”