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Universal Soldier: The Return / Second in Command(2006)
No synopsis for Universal Soldier: The Return / Second in Command.
For more about Universal Soldier: The Return / Second in Command and the Universal Soldier: The Return / Second in Command Blu-ray release, see Universal Soldier: The Return / Second in Command Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on June 24, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.0 out of 5.
Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Julie Cox, Razaaq Adoti, Vlad Ivanov, Emanuel Parvu, Elizabeth Barondes
Director: Simon Fellows
This Blu-ray bundle includes the following titles, see individual titles for specs and details:
Universal Soldier: The Return / Second in Command Blu-ray Review
A two pack of two bad DTV flicks.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, June 24, 2013
Universal Soldier: The Return
Note: Sony previously released this film to Blu-ray in 2009. Mill Creek has dropped all extras, used what appears to be the same transfer, and switched lossless soundtracks.
I'm just warming up.
It's always odd to come across an R-rated movie that sets its sights on a demographic too young to legally see the movie in theaters. Universal Solider: The Return is a movie that is likely to appeal to younger, pre-adolescent boys with a thirst for inane action and things blowing up all over the screen. It offers a paper-thin plot, ridiculous dialogue, plenty of gunplay, big explosions, and a few poor special effects -- everything a growing boy needs. Starring a still-sculpted, still-flexible, and still-mediocre-actor Jean-Claude Van Damme (Maximum Risk), martial artist Michael Jai White (Spawn), and pro wrestler Bill Goldberg, Universal Soldier: The Return has "bad movie" written all over it. The truth is, it's an abysmal picture but one that does all it sets out to do, which is provide 80 minutes of wall-to-wall action for fans to absorb. A mindless time-killer at best and a substandard sequel to a slightly-above-average Action picture at worst, Universal Soldier: The Return is irrelevant entertainment with virtually nothing going for it that can't be found -- and done better -- in hundreds of other movies.
Luc Deveraux (Van Damme) is no longer a Universal Soldier. He's been returned to natural human form but continues to work in the UniSol program, a program that has developed re-animated soldiers that are more advanced than ever before. While still under the guise of the U.S. Military, a supercomputer named S.E.T.H. oversees the entirety of the program and controls the soldiers. When word comes down that the government is cutting military spending and that the UniSol program is on the chopping block, S.E.T.H. goes into self-preservation mode, commanding the UniSols, led by Romeo (Goldberg), to overthrow the humans at the base. S.E.T.H., in its infinite wisdom, didn't count on Deveraux and intrepid local television reporter Erin Young (Heidi Schanz) playing spoiler, and must acquire a human body (White) with which to physically defeat the former UniSol and win the day.
For a movie that offers virtually nothing other than nonstop action packed inside a brief 83 minute runtime, Universal Soldier: The Return is particularly dull and slow. The most obvious defect is the film's repetitive feel; shot after shot seem virtually identical, with stoic UniSols blankly gazing at their enemies and nonchalantly firing their weapons. For whatever reason, the UniSol "grunts" are practically zombies with a firm trigger finger, while those that are played by name actors are assigned monikers, personalities, and dialogue. When the film isn't showing repetitive gun battles between Army regulars and UniSols, the film subjects the audience to a seemingly nonstop chase scene where Deveraux and Young (herself seemingly a carbon copy of a similar character played by Ally Walker in the first film) are on the run from the witty*, large, and in-charge Romeo. Unfortunately, Universal Soldier: The Return doesn't seem to understand that a good action sequence requires more than a million gunshots, several big explosions, and headache-inducing hard rock music accompaniment. The film just has "cheap" written all over it, from poorly-designed prop guns to generic costumes and sets. Universal Soldier: The Return adds insult to injury, opening Kobayashi Maru-style and concluding with a Terminator 2-esque finale, sans good special effects.
*Not so much, unless dialogue that would even sound bad coming from Mr. Freeze's polar opposite may be considered as such.
Second in Command
Well, well, well. It's another direct-to-video Action dud set in Eastern Europe and filmed there, too. In Second in Command, Romania doubles for "Moldavia," a country, surprise, on the brink of chaos, and only Jean-Claude Van Damme can save the day! Sadly, Van Damme is also the obligatory washed-up star who absolutely sleepwalks through the film. The picture is also the victim of poor pacing, dull action scenes, a secondhand plot, nobody characters, and almost zero production values. Yes, it's the DTV Action flick at its bad movie zenith. At least Van Damme is still in good physical condition, unlike some of his more pleasantly plump peers. But no matter the shape or size of the star, the place or time in which the action takes place and the movie was filmed, or the quality of the picture or lack thereof. It all boils down to a formula movie made entirely with the idea of profiting on the bankability of its star, even if he's a faded star. It's clearly been thrown together with little thought, which is far more work than it demands from its audience.
The U.S. government has recently aided in the establishment of a new democratic style of government in the nation of Moldavia. Ex-Navy SEAL Sam Keenan (Van Damme) is dispatched to the region to oversee security and is promoted to second-in-command and stationed at the presidential palace, outside of which a throng of protestors dispute the change in leadership. When a rogue agent orders shots fired into the crowd, the frenzy grows and the place comes under siege. The U.S. government releases assets to protect the citizens and government dignitaries on hand, but their late arrival could mean disaster for those on the ground. Keenan is forced into action. With a compliment of only 15 Marines at his disposal, he must fend off waves of attackers until stronger forces arrive.
Second in Command really does epitomize the awful DTV movie. It's literally a classic example of "seen one, seen 'em all" moviemaking. It's nothing more than a simple premise that's advanced by simple mechanics, chiefly bits of gunplay intermixed with scenes of soldiers scanning the battlefield or Van Damme talking strategy with whomever is within earshot. The characters are completely interchangeable, and to be honest, so too are the scenes. Second in Command could be edited differently a hundred times and in most cases it wouldn't make a lick of difference in pacing or how the movie plays out. It's a paint-by-numbers exercise with no variety and no detail work necessary. It's just pieces arranged into basic logical order, nothing more and nothing less. Nothing separates one action scene from the next, and only a name and a face differentiate most of the characters. It's a typically bland DTV flick that'll have difficulty pleasing even the most forgiving audiences.
If there's one thing that can make a movie like this even worse, it's uninspired acting. Jean-Cleaude Van Damme practically sleepwalks through the movie. He shows almost no emotion and delivers his lines with the same zest he might muster if he were drowsily browsing the late-night TV listings. The dialogue he records for off-screen use -- radio chatter -- is even more insipid; talk of covering his flank and what not in a voiceover heard around the 21-minute mark couldn't be more monotone if he were reading the ingredients list on a bottle of ketchup for the fiftieth time in a row. Then again, it's classic chicken-or-egg scenario. Does the acting stink because the actors don't care or because they have nothing with which to work? The answer, in cases like this, is probably equal parts both. There's no way anyone involved made Second in Command for any real artistic value or merit on either side of the camera. It's the movie equivalent of an off-brand candy bar, something that comes cheap and tastes awful but satisfies a very basic craving for junk.
Universal Soldier: The Return / Second in Command Blu-ray, Video Quality
Universal Soldier: The Return
Note: The below text is sourced from the review of the original Sony standalone Blu-ray release. A/B comparisons reveal this to be an identical transfer. No noticeable differences are apparent. Also note that screenshots from the original Sony review feature incorrect color. That issue has been corrected for this review.
Universal Soldier: The Return features a lackluster 1080p, 1.85:1-framed transfer. The transfer is rather dark, slightly hazy, uninspired, and plenty grainy. Colors are decent, certainly not too bright but not too dark, either. Most seem obscured under the many nighttime exterior shots and the rather poorly-lit interiors of the military facility where much of the action takes place. Fine detail is acceptable but underwhelming throughout. Black levels are decent, and flesh tones tend towards a shade of red. This is not a bad transfer, just a dull one. The material gives the disc little to work with, and this is likely the best fans are going to see Universal Soldier: The Return for a very long time.
Second in Command
Second in Command isn't the prettiest Blu-ray at the dance. Mill Creek's presentation of this Sony property is about as exciting and stimulating as watching beige paint dry. The picture plays with a stuffy, hazy, color-sucking yellow/brown/bronze sort of tint. Color is drained, and even the overlay looks awfully faded. There's no brilliance at all. The entire thing appears worn down and washed out. A few shots of camouflage uniforms look good enough, but this is about the worst color palette Blu-ray fans will find. Details aren't exactly leaping off the screen, either. The grain structure remains intact, and there's a basic proficiency to faces and clothes, but as far as nuanced textures go, there are none. Flesh tones are defined by those same awful color parameters, and black levels are usually terrible, appearing pale and pasty. For a good-looking picture, go elsewhere.
Universal Soldier: The Return / Second in Command Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Universal Soldier: The Return
Gone is Sony's old Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless soundtrack (as well as the old disc's Portuguese language track, lossless French track, and multiple additional subtitle options), replaced by a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless soundtrack. On the old release, the soundtrack proved the dominant feature, and that quality remains despite the switchover. This track enjoys a rich front side spacing to music, with solid clarity and a full surround support. Opening title text scrolls across the listening area, and gentle swampy ambience fills the stage in the following scene. Big sound effects -- ski jets zooming from side-to-side, for instance -- play with good energy, natural presence, and crisp, fluid delivery through the speakers. Gunfire is big and potent, filling the stage with zippy shells that impress from the strike of the primer to the bullet's impact on various surfaces. Explosions pack a nice punch, too, proving the value of the track's hefty bass element. Dialogue is firm and accurate with center-channel placement. This is a quality presentation in every area.
Second in Command
Second in Command's lossless soundtrack fares better than its video counterpart. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 presentation finds some real energy in places, and it's fairly well defined. There's a decent presence and fair heft to even the most routine scene and sound effect. The crowd ambience heard throughout the film is rarely authentically engaging, but it gets the job done with a fairly wide front end and a generous surround support. Gunfire never really explodes out of the speakers, but it's adequate for a low-end DTV flick. On the other hand, RPG projectiles zip through the stage with some accuracy and explosions pack a fairly hefty wallop. Music isn't all that aggressive, but that's its nature. Dialogue plays clearly enough through the center. The track offers an above-average listen for a below-average movie, but it's hardly reason enough to labor through the film.
Universal Soldier: The Return / Second in Command Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Neither film features supplemental content. Note that Sony's older release of Universal Soldier: The Return does contains a few extras.
Universal Soldier: The Return / Second in Command Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Both Universal Soldier: The Return and Second in Command represent the lower end of the DTV scale, the former because it's so unimaginative and the latter because it feels excessively cheap and nonlinear to the point that it could be rearranged many different ways and still offer basically the same movie. UniSol is the technical superior of the two by a great bit, even if it lags far behind the original film. Van Damme gives a more energized performance in UniSol, too. At the end of the day, however, there are plenty of other, better options. Mill Creek's featureless double bill offers mediocre video and quality lossless audio. Recommended to DTV Action movie junkies.
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