So here are a few things I like in a movie: People being smashed over the head with plumbing equipment, mind control, Jean-Claude Van Damme, clone-related conspiracies, and really gross brain drilling scenes. And yet somehow, despite including all these crucial ingredients for cinematic satisfaction, Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (out now on VOD) failed to achieve awesomeness. It does have its B-movie charms, but only if you are willing to endure long scenes of people driving SUVs down freeways - and equally long scenes of graphic but boring torture. Spoilers ahead!
So, to understand the plot of Universal Soldier you have to have a bit of backstory, which is that basically the supersoldiers are like zombies. They're dead, but they've been souped up so that they can regrow fingers (or toes, or whatever else you want to chop off) - plus they have some kind of technomumbohumbo chip in their heads that allows them to be mind-controlled by Dolph Lundgren or Jean-Claude Van Damme. Plus there is a government conspiracy which has morphed, over the years of this franchise, from some kind of Cold War thing to some kind of biotech thing.
Our main character, named John, wakes up one night in first-person shooter mode and discovers ninjas in his house. We watch through his eyes as they beat him nearly to death, then torture and shoot his wife and kid (really did we need to see that in five minutes of slo-mo?). Right before John passes out, one of the ninjas takes off his hood to reveal … bald Jean-Claude Van Damme, looking all sweaty and crazed like Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now! That's when the plot goes sort of Bourne Identity, and sort of Sinister, and all bugfuck. John wakes up in a hospital with no memory, and has to figure out what happened. Which apparently involves a lot of driving around in an SUV and remembering his wife being murdered in slo-mo. Seriously, there are loooooong stretches of SUV driving. I'm not sure why we needed to see that.
Meanwhile, there is some bearded guy who has received some kind of activation code form the Universal Soldier Remote, which guides him to (I shit you not) a Universal Soldier BDSM club where these guys pay strippers to drive nails into their hands and other stuff that horny zombie soldiers want. When he arrives, we get to stare at strippers for a while, and see some insane Universal Soldier Sex, before Dolph Lundgren starts doing hypno-porn stuff with Bearded Guy. Which of course we have to watch in first person shooter mode. So Dolph flashes strobe lights into our eyes (beware if you have light-activated migraines), and says things like, "You want to obey. You want to wear panties."
At this point, I will be honest, I was seriously losing my shit and pointing at the TV and yelling, "Is this really happening?" And that was when JCVD walked in wearing wizard robes, surrounded by flashing strobes, and said more stuff about obeying and freedom and getting revenge and wearing panties. OK, maybe he and Dolph didn't mention panties. But the movie was so craze-tastic at this point that if they had, I wouldn't have been surprised.
From that point on, the movie basically careens into a "is it real or in their minds" kind of tale, with all the supersoldiers hallucinating JVCD and smashing people's faces. The fight scenes in this movie were very much in the mode of "Hulk smash." There is no kickboxing, and no artful jumping around. Just a lot of slo-mo crashing around and blood spurting. Once John starts to figure out he's part of this supersoldier program, he gets to meet a mad doctor who drills his brain in what feels like realtime while the poor actor playing John crosses his eyes and tries to look mind controlled.
At some point a bunch of clones start popping up, and then the conspiracy gets even less comprehensible. I am absolutely sure that this movie makes exactly the same amount of sense no matter what kind of intoxicants you take before watching it. So in that way, at least, Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning is truly universal.
Should you pay to see this movie on VOD? Sure, if you are willing to fast forward a lot. It's practically worth it just to see the JCVD wizard hypnosis and Universal Soldier BDSM club. I guess what I'm saying is that the movie succeeds as a savage and incoherent hallucination. As a story, not so much.