Stallone asked Jean-Claude Van Damme to be a part of The Expendables, but he passed. Not only because that would implode the awesometinuum but because JCVD wanted to know details about his character and Stallone kept telling him about the big money they would make. Well, Jean-Claude is done being a naked-bunned karate puppet for big money. He wants dark and meaningful roles that stretch his acting ability. Besides, Van Damme is going to have his first pro fight next month against a gold-medalist Thai boxer. What's he going to spend big money on? A sportscoffin?
So rather than joining Hollywood's Greatest Cast Ever Assembled, Jean-Claude made the fourth sequel to a movie about zombie super soldiers that ignores the first, second and third sequels and is set in the ruins of Chernobyl which are filled with UFC fighters and kidnapped children and set to fucking explode.
That's the plot to Universal Soldier: Regeneration, and it's even better than it sounds. It's not Van Damme's first or even 15th attempt at a gritty reboot, but it's the first one that has generated a great action movie instead of a love letter to clinical depression.
The Gritty Reboot of the JCVD Rating System
For years I've been using a JCVD movie rating system based around four main criteria: sassy female reporter, buns, a second Jean-Claude Van Damme and the splits. It's measured on a Splits scale that goes from 0 percent Splits for "No" to 100 percent Splits for "Yes." However, since Van Damme has become a grim and serious actor, this system doesn't work. That's why I've developed a modern JCVD rating system that uses four new criteria: moody soul searching, kickfighting, gunfighting and a lack of value of human life. This new system is measured by the length of Jean-Claude's grim and unfakeable 1000-yard stare. His eyes have eaten things that would make yours puke.
The survival rate for characters in this movie is so low that people still die when you have it paused. There are no periods in the script because every sentence gets finished with a knife in the neck or an exploded chest. There was so much fake blood on the set that they had to film it from canoes. The board game Travel Operation has more respect for human life than Universal Soldier: Regeneration. It's like Jean-Claude Van Damme set out to create the first truly honest documentary of where Happy Meals come from.
There's only one Van Damme. There are no twin brothers, no time traveling and the only clones in the movie are of completely non-Jean-Claude-Van-Damme characters. As for buns... I'm not gay, but is it really fair to all the people who are to keep his underpants on for 90 whole minutes?
A normal movie fight looks like a mix of ballet and jump cuts that ends either when one guy lands something with a backflip or when someone gets their head yanked to the side. Universal Soldier: Regeneration is a little more realistic. The evil super soldier is former UFC Heavyweight Champion and current Russian werewolf Andrei Arlovski, and judging by the fight scenes, I don't think Russians have a word for "pretend." His attacks have such a brutal practicality that I think they might have just put body armor on the stuntmen, turned the camera on and told Arlovski that he had to catch and cook his own dinner.
This movie really thought about how a perfect soldier would kill someone, and decided it wouldn't be very complicated. For example, five people are killed by a super soldier sitting on them and punching their face until it's soup. Five. And these killings don't take place off-camera while we hear sloppy thuds and see the horrified face of an onlooker. We ARE the horrified face of an onlooker.
Jean-Claude adds a fun element of spin-kickery to the otherwise realistic fight scenes, but he never quite does the full splits. And you can forget about him punching anyone in the balls. He doesn't do that anymore. One of the main reasons there are so many mean fifth graders in the world today is because Jean-Claude Van Damme stopped punching bad guys in the dick a decade ago.
The gunfights are built around the idea that human bodies are only there to hold bullets. But there seems to be some sort of gentleman's agreement that no one ever shoots the expensive resurrected karate soldiers. Arlovsky and Van Damme each dodge through blizzards of lead to kill gunmen with punches and knives. Which is even more ridiculous when you consider that Andrei Arlovsky is the size of a tractor. Arlovsky is so massive that kids lose baseballs on him. He's so big that scientists use him to get panda bears horny. And 50 guys with assault rifles can't hit him? At one point I thought they might have been trying to suffocate him by killing all the air around him, but it's more likely that bullets are just scared of Andrei Arlovsky.
During a covert mission or a secret underground karate tournament, Jean-Claude usually meets 15 to 20 lady reporters. Because they have an old saying in the newspaper business: "If a story doesn't belong in the karate section, get the fuck out of my office." Strangely, in this film, when a daring kidnapping leaves one million zillion dead and the kidnappers flee to Chernobyl to broadcast terrorist manifestos about undead super soldiers, the press never gets wind of it. Filmmakers, I know your movie moves a lot faster if you leave out all the dialog and setting and character development, but there's an old saying in the movie business: If Jean-Claude Van Damme goes more than 24 hours without his dick in a reporter, you better remember one thing...
And then you wait for someone to ask what, and then you go: "A good supply of body bags."
When we're reintroduced to the former zombie super soldier Luc Deveraux, a doctor is trying to rehabilitate him for civilian life. How can he live a life when all he knows is killing? This kind of duality is exactly what the modern Jean-Claude looks for in an acting role. Unfortunately, the first thing his character does in civilian life is go to a cafe and kick a man to death for no reason. It's so violent and meaningless that it's like the movie is committing a hate crime on the gay part of your brain that wanted that introspection bullshit to go somewhere. Universal Soldier: Regeneration really doesn't care what's happening in the scene you're watching-- someone is going to die every 20 seconds even if it makes no sense. Nobody even survives the audio commentary of this movie.
Any RoboCop will tell you that when you bring someone back to life with a reprogrammed brain, you're going to find a couple existential crises that weren't there before. But like any RoboCop will also tell you, you don't spend more than six or seven seconds of your movie on that crap. You won't believe how well this movie follows RoboCop's advice. When they unfreeze Dolph Lundgren, he manages to kill 10 people before he's even done with the second sentence of his identity crisis. This movie is that efficient.