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Redbox Review: Universal Soldier 4: Day of Reckoning

This post marks the first of what will hopefully become a regular series on the old martial arts blog. In brief, I'll be taking the newest martial arts flicks available to rent and reviewing them for you. What may appear at first to be a cleverly veiled excuse to write about the newest action movies is in fact a truly valuable service. A service in which I'll let you know whether said movies are worth your hard-earned free time.

After all, your time is valuable right? When two hours of movie relaxation could be two hours of martial arts training, it's best to spend one's time effectively. A bad movie can be the deadliest of bullets, killing hours that you will never see again. I am here to take that bullet for you.

So, without further explanation, let's get on with it. Continue reading for the thrilling conclusion to our thoughts on Universal Soldier 4: Day of Reckoning.

Everyone loves Scott Adkins!
The Plot:

After a brutal home invasion leaves John (Scott Adkins) a crippled, childless, widower, he embarks on a (sort of) mission to avenge his family by killing Luc Deveraux (Jean-Claude Van Damme reprising his role once again) the staple UniSol.

Along the way he will enlist the aide of stripper Sarah (Mariah Bonner) and fight off the relentless Magnus (appropriately played by mixed martial artist Andrei Arlovski) all while trying to piece together a hazy past. This series of events of course converge on what passes for a 'Final Showdown' of sorts involving Deveraux and alpha-henchman Andrew Scott (Dolph Lundgren).

Most martial arts movies these days follow a simple formula: Keep the plot simple and fill in everything else with amazing fight scenes that showcase beautiful martial arts choreography. It's too bad this movie mostly ignores the first half of the equation and pretty much forgets the rest.

Why is Dolph looking at Scott like that?

The Styles:

As any martial arts entertainment blog worth its salt should do when reviewing a movie, we'll take a look at the different styles you can expect to find in Universal Soldier 4. Be on the lookout for:

  • Taekwondo - Scott Adkin's bread and butter. The guy has been training in it since he was 14, and it shows. Always a joy to watch on film, our largest disappointment with US4 is that we barely got a taste of he can pull off.

  • Kickboxing - The usual JCVD fare of close quarters striking and kicks. Again, too bad there isn't more to be found.

  • Wrestling/Dirty Boxing - One of the only highlights of the movie (see below for list) comes from the final showdown between John and Magnus. It's a straight up brawl with various throws and power punches coming from the brutal Arlovski.

While there are a couple of all-too-brief moments exhibiting martial arts awesomeness, the movie as a whole fell flat for me in the hand-to-hand action department. Which is a real shame considering how much talent it brings to the table.

The horror...the...horror.

Scenes To Jump To

Here's the part where we lay out all of the best fight scenes found in the movie, along with the time at which they show up. Unfortunately, when it comes to US4, it's a very short list.

  • 0:36 - Yes, you're reading that correctly. It's a good 36 minutes until we actually see what can be considered a good old fashioned fight scene (the seemingly unending, first-person beating at the beginning doesn't count and neither does the shootout at the brothel). It's a gory scene that makes a viewer think of the Saw franchise more times than your typical martial arts movie usually does.

  • 0:50 - Like many elements of the film, these scene is brutal, brief, and not explained very well. But you'll get to see Arlovski take down a random UniSol in a scene that could probably have been left on the cutting room floor without anyone noticing.

  • 1:04 - Now this is what I'm talking about! It's like someone finally realized that they had Scott Adkins and Andre Arlovski pitted against each other in a movie and decided to make it awesome. Highlights include a baseball bat duel and Adkins' best impression of one of Guile's flash-kicks. Sure it suffers from the same brief brutality as the rest of the fights in this movie, but at least it's a solid fight scene. Now why did it take over an hour for this happen?

  • 1:28 - In what is surely one of the films more creative uses of direction, the (seemingly) one-take escape sequence features an enraged Adkins roaming a network of caverns, dispatching a plethora of baddies who appear from every direction, biceps and all. The continuous shot ends in what should be the big payoff fight between John (Adkins) and Deveraux. Not the fight I was hoping for after such a long wait but a fight nonetheless. Oh, and somewhere in there Dolph Lundgren shows up with some guns and CQC before a **SPOILER** quick and bloody death.

  • It's hard to ignore the similarity with the amount of gore this movie throws around!

    Final Thoughts

    So what do we take away from all of this? Well, all story issues aside, if one is going to make a Sci-Fi/Action film featuring some of today's (and yesterday's) most famous martial artists, you should probably find a way to showcase them in the best way possible. Unfortunately, it appears bad luck may have played a small role in influencing much of the fight choreography. The Behind-the-Scenes features reveal that at one point during shooting Scott Adkins suffered a serious injury to his knee. This necessitated an increased use of stunt doubles and an overall re-working of much of the fight scenes (which no doubt involved Adkins' signature legwork). That the film was able to shoot around such a potentially debilitating issue is impressive in itself.

    Of course, not all is wrong with this film. It's refreshing to a Sci-Fi film maintain such a low profile when it comes to the more fantastic elements of the story. While subtle reference to the 'science' has been common in the Universal Soldier universe, it's almost non-existent in this movie. With the exception of a few shots or references to cloning and mind control, you could almost be watching a movie that's more along the lines of a Bourne Identity.

    The polished, digital picture and aggressive sound-mix makes this a joy to watch. Though, at times, the film takes it too far. Specifically in some of the 'mind-control' sequences which literally assault your eyes with a strobe effect that may have left me with some residual epilepsy. What could have been an artistic effect if used sparingly becomes downright obnoxious. It was this sense of not knowing when to quit that I feel plagued the film in many aspects. Whether pointing to the often distracting gore or the overt references to Apocalypse Now with an aging Van Damme playing Kurtz, this is a movie that doesn't know when to pull the reigns in.

    Final Score:

    Renter Beware

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