Depending on whether you count direct-to-video releases, Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning is either the fourth or sixth film in the Panda Express–level Universal Soldier franchise, the descendant of a rip off of The Terminator. But less money equals less studio oversight, and the directors of low-budget sequels to 20-year-old action films sometimes have a little more latitude to explore their ambitions, presuming they harbor some. Director John Hyams does. After having crafted top-of-the-line man-to-man combat in the direct-to-video Universal Soldier: Regeneration, he now is plainly going for something big by basing the story loosely around the plot armature of Apocalypse Now, which means that his film is two degrees of abstraction away from Heart of Darkness, a novel from high school. Kickboxing champion Scott Adkins plays John, a man whose family is murdered by a squad of assassins led by Luc Deveraux (Jean-Claude Van Damme), the original Universal Soldier, his head shaved cue ball in order to illustrate the clearest possible lineage from Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. This prologue is shot in first person with disconcerting fades and blackouts and is ultimately upsetting if children are things that you like. Deveraux has become the head of a cultish militia of unisols, locating and activating sleeper-agent murderers created by the government and doing lots of splattery killing. The melee fight scenes are seemingly conjured into this dark, poo-encrusted world from some other, happier film containing sunshine and magic, in which muscley men grapple and put one another's heads through walls. Also, there is a scene in a nasty, dirt-walled operating room in which a doctor puts a Dremel router through Adkins's skull. So that's cheerful.
John HyamsJean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, Scott Adkins, Kristopher Van Varenberg, David Jensen, Austin Naulty, Roy Jones Jr., Mariah Bonner, Rus Blackwell, James RawlingsJohn Hyams, Doug Magnuson, Jon Greenhalgh, Moshe DiamantCraig Baumgarten, Moshe Diamant, Allen ShapiroMagnolia Pictures