TADFF 2012: ‘Universal Soldier – Day of Reckoning’: a generic action movie disguised as art house

Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning

Directed by John Hyams

Written by John Hyams, Doug Magnuson and Jon Greenhalgh

USA, 2012

Although it looks like a generic action movie on paper, Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning is actually a lot messier on screen, both physically and stylistically. Combining Gaspar Noé-style strobe light disorientation and long takes with David Cronenberg-inspired body wreckage, the movie looks and feels like a departure from the normal action movie affair; yet, at its heart, Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning is still fairly generic.

The story centers on John (Scott Adkins), a man recovering from a coma and the brutal deaths of his wife and daughter. With a vivid picture of the killer, Luc Deveraux (Jean-Claude Van Damme), in his mind, John tries to figure out what exactly happened and why. Things are complicated as he’s shadowed by a mysterious character (MMA fighter Andrei Arlovski) sent by Andrew Scott (Dolph Lundgren), the leader of an army of rogue UniSols whom are ‘free’ from the government (free in the Fight Club sense of the word).

The major problem with Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning is its erratic pacing. With hints of a slow-building and measured character study in the works, the movie will punctuate the slog of ham-fisted dialogue and wooden acting with vociferous action. Perhaps this is a blessing in disguise, since the acting is not particularly up to snuff; if you combined the appearance of Ben Affleck with the screen presence of Jason Statham, and dialed everything down a bit, you’d have Mr. Adkins’ performance. But because we, like John, don’t know what’s going on when he encounters physical conflict, the fighting just seems like fighting for fighting’s sake, missing some context or reasons to really care.

Taking the same direction as The Raid: Redemption, Day of Reckoning assumes that blimey, balls-to-the-wall action will overshadow the fragility of the script. But at least The Raid had the courtesy to set up the simple premise in the beginning and have the action play out for the rest of the duration. Day of Reckoning wants us to piece together a vague story that seems to meander along and is put aside for stretches of time. This is essentially how the movie pans out: five minutes of bland exposition, then five minutes of hardcore violence, then five minutes of bland exposition, and so on and so forth.

That being said, the fight sequences are really well choreographed, are often visceral, and downright wild. You don’t really need to try and follow the story (they explain everything in the last scene, anyway), but fans of the series, or fans of inspired fight sequences, will likely enjoy Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning for what it is: a generic action movie disguised as art house.

– Justin Li

The 7th annual Toronto After Dark Film Festival runs from October 18-26. For a complete schedule and ticket information, please visit the offical website.

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