Let’s give Roland Emmerich a break. For every single horrible movie he created like Godzilla and The Day After Tommorrow, I look back at this movie and say, “I have to forgive him. After all, he made Universal Soldier.” It was written by Richard Rothstein (who created the HBO show The Hitchhiker, Christopher Leitch and Dean Devlin, Roland’s usual partner).
Back in Vietnam. a U.S. Army team was ordered to take a village, but Luc Deveraux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) soon figures out that every person in the village — and many of his own men — have been killed. That’s because his sergeant Andrew Scott (Dolph Lundgren) has finally gone over the edge. Despite the begging of Deveraux, he kills a young couple. Our hero loses it and both men ends up killing one another. The end? Nope. A second team comes in and freezes them, chalking them up to just two more soldiers missing in action.
Years later, both men are part of the UniSol program, a team of elite soldiers who are able to withstand gunfire and run down the side of Hoover Dam. During a mission, Deveraux begins to remember the past and starts to disobey the orders of their commander, Colonel Perry (Ed O’Ross, The Hidden).
TV journalist Veronica Roberts (Ally Walker, TV’s Profiler) is determined to get the real story. She finds one of the UniSols, GR76 (Ralf Moller, Cyborg) in ice, healing from his wounds. She’s discovered and the order is to bring her back, dead or alive. That’s when Deveraux finally breaks free of his programming and saves her.
Scott also remembers his past self and gives in to his insanity, walking around with a necklace of ears, as he still thinks he’s in Vietnam. His big mission now is to find and kill Deveraux. Our hero has gone rogue and he finds Dr. Christopher Gregor (Jerry Orbach) who tells him how the program was started in the 1960s.
Hijinks, as they say, ensue, as the one good UniSol left has to battle every single member of his old platoon. There’s also an incredible scene that I quote all of the time, where Van Damme beats up an entire bar while muttering, “I’m tired. I just want to go home. And I just want to eat.” No quote has ever summed up how I feel on any given day of the week more.
Look for other soldiers like Michael Jai White (Spawn) and Tiny Lister. Even better, one of the commanding officers is Eugene M. Davis, who played villains in two Bronson movies, 10 to Midnight and Messenger of Death, as well as a cross-dressing snitch in Cruising.
Universal Soldier was a much darker movie when it was originally written. Colonel Perry was actually using the incident at the dam to justify the project, with the entire mission being a false flag operation. He then orders Scott to kill anyone in his way as he hunts down Deveraux. Why the change? Probably because after the Gulf War, a negative view of the military probably would have hurt the film’s chances to make money.
Even weirder, this movie started as another project for Emmerich and Devlin called Isobar. That movie would have starred Sylvester Stallone and Kim Basinger, pitting them against a genetically created monster on a bullet train. After that movie stalled due to a budget growing out of control, they were hired for this movie instead.
Also — if you even see the movie Critical Mass, directed by Fred Olen Ray, it uses the bus chase from this film. It was produced by Andrew Stevens, who started making low budget films based around b-roll footage after he stopped making Cinemax After Dark features.
The military was actually watching all of this action and it’s why the HK 45 Compact, which has day/night/laser aiming and a suppressor, was added to the arsenal of SEAL Team 6.
The thing that really makes me laugh is that for all the ripping off that Sergio Martino’s Hands of Steel does of Terminator and Over the Top, this one completely steals that movie’s concept! Oh well — I totally love this totally ridiculous action-packed movie all about foreign dudes being US Army zombie soldiers. It’s not even a guilty pleasure — I hate that idea — it’s a movie I tell everyone about.