Universal Soldier: Regeneration (2009)

Universal Soldier: Regeneration (2009)-* * * *

Directed by: John Hyams

Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Andrei "The Pitbull" Orlovsky, and Dolph Lundgren 

When a terrorist group takes over part of Chernobyl and threatens radioactive death if their demands are not met (and they kidnapped the son and daughter of a prominent politician to boot), Luc Deveraux (Van Damme) is called back into active duty.  Now in a kind of rehab/therapy where he's learning to live again, he must retrain for combat. He faces his toughest challenge yet, as the terrorists used stolen technology to create the ultimate emotionless, unstoppable killing machine, dubbed "The Freak" by U.S. forces (Orlovsky). But they also open Pandora's box and resurrect Deveraux's old nemesis Andrew Scott (Dolph). Deveraux has his work cut out for him this time around...

It's actually pretty shocking how good Universal Soldier: Regeneration truly is. It doesn't even really HAVE to be this good. Far from your average "dumb" action movie, this seems to be a rejection of that notion, striking an excellent, precise balance between melancholy intelligence and frighteningly brutal violence.

Regeneration appears to be a reaction to The Return. Almost as if the filmmakers were embarrassed  by the badness and silliness of that unfortunate outing, the swung the pendulum back the other direction (almost too much), creating a dark, adult, nihilistically violent creation, but it's not without some emotion and humanity as well. Just a great job done all around.

Everything from the production values, to the acting, to the action, and everything else in between is light years beyond The Return, making it truly a travesty that that turkey was released theatrically in the U.S., while this wasn't. Regeneration is well-shot and well-directed by John  Hyams, son of director Peter. Hyams treats the material seriously and with respect, and everything that happens plotwise makes perfect sense. It's all idea-based (even retaining the best ideas from the first Universal Soldier film), not throwaway action. In the hands of another director, this could have been half-heartedly slagged off as "just another Universal Soldier movie". But the fact that Hyams does not do that, or even come close, is totally refreshing and comes as a great relief for true action fans. 

Hyams hits all the right notes - from utilizing the bleak Bulgarian locations to their fullest potential, to bringing the Universal Soldier franchise into the present day. Using the Navy Seal-like soldiers strongly reminiscent of the U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the uncompromising nature of war, as a background to amplify the audience's fears about our own mortality. After all, even our best soldiers are no match for their SuperSoldiers. We'll definitely be watching to see what Hyams does in the future, as he seems to have a strong grasp of how to do muscular action.

Undoubtedly, many consumers probably thought that this IS just another Universal Soldier installment - it's almost a shame that this movie doesn't have another title. Having been burned on The Return, consumers might not know what they're truly getting here - something much, much different and worthwhile.

Van Damme puts in an excellent performance, Dolph is always awesome, and Orlovsky is perfectly cast as the scary freak. All the actors in the film do a pitch-perfect job. A definite win for everyone involved, we enthusiastically support Universal Soldier: Regeneration.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Universal Soldier (1992)

Universal Soldier (1992)-* * *1\2

Directed by: Roland Emmerich

Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, Ally Walker, Tiny Lister, Leon Rippy, Ralf Moeller, Simon Rhee, and Jerry Orbach

"The Future Has A Bad Attitude"

Back in ‘Nam, soldier Luc Deveraux (Van Damme) met and became mortal enemies with the sinister fellow soldier Andrew Scott (Lundgren). Luc objected to Scott’s killing of civilians, and in the ensuing brouhaha, they end up killing each other. Or so we think. In 1992, they, along with other former soldiers have been turned by the government into “Universal Soldiers”, or “Unisols” for short. 

They are part man, but part machine as well, and have been programmed to follow orders emotionlessly. But slowly both Luc and Andrew start to regain more and more of their humanity. Luc escapes the compound with reporter Veronica Roberts (Walker) - but Andrew is not happy about that. So now Luc and Veronica are on the run, with Andrew chasing them everywhere they go and causing a lot of mayhem along the way. Old grudges die hard as the final fight proves. What will happen?

Universal Soldier is a classic from the golden age of action in America. This was a time from the late 80’s to early 90’s when movies like this went to the theater and had decent budgets behind them. And this in particular was such a success that is spawned four (soon to be five as of this writing) sequels. But the high quality of this production goes a long way and is nice to see, especially in light of the brutal violence and constant, messy head shots which are usually reserved for lower-budget outings.

But, beyond the violence, there are some interesting messages at work. One is that humanity will always remain in us and is stronger than any outside force. Despite all that has happened to them, Luc is still good and Andrew is still evil. The movie also tries to make modern-day parallels to their ‘Nam experiences. Funnily enough, there’s a (probably inadvertent) pro-steroid message, as characters get stronger and win fights after they inject a chemical into themselves.

Besides Van Damme and Lundgren together at last, we shouldn’t forget Ralf Moeller is on hand as well. That’s right, Brakus himself plays a Unisol. Now that’s an amazing power-trio if there ever was one. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, Tommy ‘Tiny’ Lister and Simon Rhee also play Unisols. 

Of course, the whole program was developed by Lennie - i.e. Jerry Orbach - who really doesn’t get a lot of screen time. Ally Walker as the classic know-nothing reporter who serves as some kind of audience identification is okay, not great. But Dolph puts in a rare animated performance and seems to relish being the super-evil baddie here.

While the movie follows a very definite formula, there’s also plenty of humor so the proceedings don’t get too dour. Part of that, presumably, is the surprising amount of un-asked-for, unneeded Van Damme nudity. But the Unisols are kept in cold storage like so many hot dogs, and their eyepiece resembles an evil monocle, adding to their scary appearance. It’s also amusing to see Belgians and Swedes fighting in the Vietnam War...but come to think of it, this movie can really be summed up in three words: Necklace Of Ears.

Just get some action stars and a solid budget and entertainment will ensue. If only Hollywood kept on this path, but sadly they didn’t. If you haven’t yet seen it (or haven’t seen it in a long while), see Universal Soldier.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Universal Soldier: The Return (1999)

Universal Soldier: The Return (1999)-*

Directed by: Mic Rodgers

Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bill Goldberg, Justin Lazard, Heidi Schanz, Xander Berkley, Brent Hinkley, and Michael Jai White

Luc Deveraux (Van Damme) returns, but the question is...why? This time around, Luc is just a regular Joe with a daughter, and he’s working with a Dr. Cotner (Berkeley) to refine and improve the Universal Soldier project. This is pretty surprising considering how he was treated by the higher-ups in the first movie. Nevertheless, At the base, everything is controlled by a 2001: A Space Odyssey-styled computer called SETH. 

When the intelligent SETH determines that the government is going to pull his plug, he transfers himself into the body of Michael Jai White and goes hunting for Luc and his daughter. As if that wasn’t enough to contend with, Luc also must fend off fellow Unisol (a contraction of the words “Universal Soldier” for those that didn’t see the first movie) Romeo (Goldberg). Naturally there’s yet another do-nothing female reporter, Erin (Schanz). How will Deveraux get out of this one?

Sadly, this sequel to the highly entertaining original is a disappointment. It’s a big drop from the first one - it’s lifeless and not a crowd-pleaser. While it did receive a theatrical release, surprisingly, it has a chintzy Direct-To-Video look to it. It never inspires confidence when 95% of your movie takes place in one building. Yes, “The Return”, as we call it  (we refuse to dignify this crud with the Universal Soldier name) is one of THOSE.

Even from its silly opening sequence (which naturally involves rockin’ jetskis), and throughout its many scenes with terrible music behind them, this movie is trying to be hip and cool, but fails. A great example of this is the character of Squid (Hinkley) - a radically-awesome drinker of Mountain Dew who loves his Frankenberry cereal. 

And speaking of characters that audiences can’t possibly connect with, the choice to cast fitness girl Kiana Tom instead of a proper actress is just odd. But the most glaring casting change involves the complete lack of Dolph Lundgren. Sure, we all love Goldberg, as much as anyone really can, but he’s no substitute for the Dolphster. Surely even Mr. Lundgren, who’s no stranger to DTV junk, read the script for this and headed for the hills.

Not so for Van Damme, who looks tired and disinterested, even as he spouts his one-liners. Does anyone really want to see Luc Deveraux as just some normal dude - with a kid even? Surely a sign of this movie’s status as a pale reflection of its forebear is, instead of the robotic monocle the Unisols wear over an eye in the first film, now they just wear Blu-Blocker Bono sunglasses.

And while this movie is very dumb, and disjointed, and features some downright embarrassing steals from Demolition Man (1993) and Terminator 2 (1991), Michael Jai White ALMOST saves the movie. He puts in by far the best performance and seems dedicated to his role as the sinister SETH. But even despite his valiant efforts, he can’t overcome the cruddiness within. But on the bright side, a character rides Goldberg down a flight of stairs like a sled. Yes, you read that correctly.

The bottom line is, this movie is an obvious cash-in and simply doesn’t need to exist. You might think, before watching this, “Yeah! It’s a Universal Soldier movie! Cool!” - it’s only natural to think that, but unfortunately, this movie doesn’t satisfy those expectations.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Hard Target (1993)

Hard Target (1993)-* * * *

Directed by: John Woo

Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Yancy Butler, Arnold Vosloo, Lance Henriksen, Kasi Lemmons, and Wilford Brimley

Chance Boudreaux (Van Damme) is a New Orleans longshoreman who is down on his luck and struggling to find work. Opportunity comes his way when Nat (Butler) hires him to help her find her missing father. As it turns out, her father isn’t missing, necessarily, he was a victim of a malevolent gang of “human hunters”. Led by Fouchon (Henriksen), and with his second in command Pik Van Cleef (Vosloo), they get their kicks (and get rich) letting weekend warriors pay them to go on the ultimate hunting expedition: for man! But they meet their match with the fearless Chance, a man they cannot kill. Along for the ride is Chance’s uncle Douvee (Brimley). Will Chance get his chance at glory? Or, to the human hunters, is he just another HARD TARGET?

Hard Target is hands-down one of Van Damme’s best. It’s explosively entertaining and lives up to the promise of a Van Damme and John Woo team-up. It’s everything a combination of those two men could be and should be, and doesn’t let the audience down.

Once again, this is classic 90’s action fun from the golden time when Van Damme movies went to the theater. Back then, we remember joking with our friends that because there’s so much slow motion in this movie, if it was all played at regular speed, the film would be about 20 minutes. And it’s true, there is a lot of dramatic slo-mo, but it’s all for the best. And Van Damme and others get a lot of unnecessarily portentous entrances and exits, which just adds to the style of Hard Target, which is just a tad bit off-kilter. But that’s far from a bad thing. It separates itself from its many competitors that way.

Besides Van Damme and his absurd hair, the cast assembled for this is just killer: Lance Henriksen is great as the baddie who’s so bad, even his piano-playing is evil. Vosloo is also adept at being bad, and his quasi-Scottish (?) accent, well, accentuates his sinister glares. Yancy Butler gives a bug-eyed performance who always seems surprised at the proceedings. But top marks must go to the great Wilford Brimley. In a strange role for him, the barely-intelligible, bow-and-arrow toting, horseback riding uncle is truly lovable and you root for him, even though he doesn’t appear until late in the film. That’s a tribute to Brimley that the audience can grow to love him so quickly.

This movie puts a twist on the time-honored Most Dangerous Game (1932) idea. The formula’s been tried before, with varying degrees of success, in everything from Death Ring (1992) to Avenging Force (1986). But Hard Target has plenty of awesome moments, including the extended climax in (what else) an abandoned warehouse. Never one to be afraid of wasting bullets, Woo pulls out all the stops in an extended feast of overkill. It’s over-the-top fun everyone should see.

On a technical note, the British DVD is longer than the American cut, including more violence. So try to track that down if you can, for the complete picture.

Go down to the bayou tonight for some high-octane, high-quality Van Damme at his absolute best.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


The Order (2001)

The Order (2001)-* * *

Directed by: Sheldon Lettich

Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Sofia Milos, Ben Cross, Abdel Qissi, Brian Thompson, and Charlton Heston

Rudy (Van Damme) is a charming smuggler whose father is an archaeologist. When his beloved dad goes missing, Rudy travels to Israel to try and find him. While there, he meets his father’s old friend Finley (Heston) and they begin the search. Complicating matters are authorities that want to find Rudy, and a mysterious, ancient “Order” led by cult leader Cyrus Jacob (Thompson). Will Rudy navigate his way through the complex web?

A director specializing in Van Damme vehicles, Sheldon Lettich returns to Israel after his previous effort, the horrible The Last Warrior (2000) (surprisingly, with Dolph and not Van Damme), which was also shot there. Fortunately, The Order is far better and is decently entertaining. Yes, it has all the stupidity we’ve come to know and love from Nu-Image, but the Israel locations add a lot and the movie has a good pace.

Van Damme gives a pretty upbeat performance as Rudy, whose claim to fame is that he’s a black market Faberge egg dealer. His funny line readings are one of the main joys of this movie. Seeing as Van Damme co-wrote the screenplay, he obviously cared a little more this time, and the viewer reaps some of the benefits. Like Gary Daniels in Hawk's Vengeance (1997), we’re treated to the sight of the main hero dressing as an Orthodox Jew and doing some fighting. This appears in the scene with his The Quest (1996) co-star Abdel Qissi. Also the circular bump on his forehead is here, as can be seen in many of his 2000’s-era efforts.

As far as the presence of Charlton Heston in a Nu-Image production, you have to ask: Why? How? How did this happen? There’s even some minor Heston-Fu! It’s definitely an unusual sight to see. Of course, Yahoots Magoondi himself, Brian Thompson also is here, playing the leader of the mysterious sect. It seems like good casting, but it would have been nice to see a little more of this aspect of the plot.

Like a lot of movies of this type, there are some scenes, especially in the second half, which are under-lit and very hard to see. But on the bright side, Pino Donaggio contributes a great, theatrical-style score which helps a lot. Due to similar subject matter, The Order would make an interesting double feature with The Minion (1998). Someone try it and tell us how it goes.

For a Nu-Image title made during a low ebb in Van Damme’s career, The Order is surprisingly good, maybe the best made under those circumstances.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Double Impact (1991)

Double Impact (1991)-* * *

Directed by: Sheldon Lettich

Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Geoffrey Lewis, Alonna Shaw, Cory Everson, and Bolo Yeung

Alex (Van Damme) and Chad (Van Damme) are twins who were separated at six months old when their parents were murdered by gangsters. Alex became a ne’er-do-well in Hong Kong while Chad became a pretty-boy aerobics instructor in L.A. Convinced to go to Hong Kong to find out the truth, Chad meets Alex, and Yin meets Yang. The two men, despite being brothers, couldn’t be more different, and conflicts ensue. But it’s all in the name of getting revenge for their slain parents. But it’s going to take double the power to take down evildoer Moon (Yeung). Will you feel the impact?

Probably one of the better movies (of the five total) where Van Damme plays two roles, Double Impact has JCVD as the happy-go-lucky Chad, with his absurd pastel outfits and tiny pink shorts, as well as the gruff, cigar-chomping Alex. If you’ve ever seen The Patty Duke show in reruns, you know the “show the back of the other character’s head” style of portraying the two men. The movie wastes little time in having Van Damme do one of his trademark splits (while wearing a leotard, naturally). Chad is the fish out of water in Hong Kong (and the movie sports some great Hong Kong locations and photography), just one side of the coin that is Jean-Claude Van Damme.

This is also one of the many team-ups of Van Damme and director Sheldon Lettich. But at almost two hours, the movie overstays its welcome and is just too long. You know what they always say - double the Van Damme, double the running time. Though the movie drags at times, it also has just enough cool moments to make this a rollercoaster of peaks and valleys.

The rest of the cast is worthy too, as Bolo is here looking great, Cory Everson plays the bodybuilder who is also in the hard-to-find Ballistic (1995), and Alonna Shaw plays the eye candy - at one point the movie basically stops so it can become like a Playboy video for her. The movie naturally concludes in the time-honored steam factory, and characters even throw barrels at each other, a la Double Dragon. Double Dragon - Double Impact... coincidence? I think not...!

After the extensive running time, there is a freeze frame and the C + C Music Factory-like song, “Feel The Impact”, by Gen plays. By our estimation, Double Impact is kind of hit-or-miss. It’s a decent enough idea, but not enough to support such a lengthy movie.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


In Hell (2003)

In Hell (2003)-* * *

Directed by: Ringo Lam

Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme and Lawrence Taylor

Kyle LeBlanc (Van Damme) is an American who works in Russia. When his wife is murdered, he gets revenge and kills the assailant. Unfortunately, rather than be the end of the movie, it’s just the beginning of the nightmare for Kyle. He’s sent to a harsh, unforgiving Russian prison (is there any other kind?). While in there trying to survive, it comes to light that the corrupt guards bet on Punchfighting matches which they call “The Sparka” between the inmates. Kyle trains and fights, and becomes good, but in the process begins to lose his soul. Thanks to cellmate 451 (Taylor), Kyle starts the process of escaping his prisons, both mental and physical.

It may have been stated before, but In Hell is truly a return to form for Van Damme. After the horrendous Derailed (2002), he probably re-assessed his life and career and demanded he do something of quality. This may be an educated speculation, but In Hell is the result. It’s shot and directed well, as Ringo Lam is a talented man, and Van Damme probably thought it was foolproof to fall back on his Maximum Risk (1996) and Replicant (2001) director to deliver a good, solid production. He was right.

Interestingly, In Hell balances bare-knuckle, hard-core Punchfighting with a surprising amount of depth and philosophy, primarily delivered by Lawrence Taylor (of all people) as 451. The movie shows how Kyle becomes feral and animalistic, and begins to lose his identity. But he must search his soul to get it back. On top of that, there’s even some parallels to the biblical Samson story. Van Damme has a beard and long hair at one point. Can he maintain his abilities once it becomes a soul patch?

While there is some CGI (we’ll forgive the CGI moth, but the CGI planes are unnecessary), if you think about such movies as The Quest (1996), and compare that to this, you truly see Van Damme’s range as a performer and martial artist. The Quest, for all intents and purposes, is a kid’s movie, and In Hell certainly isn’t. Those are two ends of his spectrum, and any JCVD haters out there should keep that in mind. 

He clearly saw In Hell as a chance to stretch and push himself as an actor/martial artist (in itself a good sign that at his age he still wants to grow and learn), and In Hell was the perfect vehicle to do that, and the results are winning and entertaining, while delivering a different kind of Van Damme. So it could be said that it was a success all around. 

Thirteen years after Death Warrant (1990), Van Damme returns to prison. And we should all be glad he did. In Hell is a Van Damme winner.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Maximum Risk (1996)

Maximum Risk (1996)-* * *

Directed by: Ringo Lam

Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Natasha Henstridge, Jean-Hughes Anglade, Zach Grenier, Frank Senger, and Paul Ben-Victor

Alain Moreau (Van Damme) is a French cop who just discovered he has a twin brother. His name was Mikhail Suverov and he worked for the Russian mob. To get to the truth about his life, he travels to New York City, specifically the Little Odessa area. While there he must fight gangsters, as well as double-dealing FBI agents. But just about everyone thinks he’s Mikhail. Luckily his brother’s girlfriend Alex (Henstridge) is along for the ride. Now Alain has to make it back to France in one piece, but not before causing some major Van Damage in the big apple!

Maximum Risk is from the good old days when Van Damme movies went to the theater. Thus, it has a high-quality look and feel, and seems to have a decent budget behind it. It’s nice to see the high production values used well by the great Ringo Lam, who would later team up with Van Damme again for Replicant (2001) and  In Hell (2003).

It must be in Van Damme’s contract to be in movies where he plays two roles. Most actors never get this chance, but Van Damme has. FIVE times. These being Double Impact (1991), Maximum Risk (1996), Replicant (2001), Timecop (1994) and The Order (2001). Just why he feels there aren’t enough Van Dammes currently on earth, outside of ego, has yet to be explained. To further emphasize his “double” life, here, in Maximum Risk, Van Damme seeing his reflection is a theme throughout the movie. Glasses, windows, picture frames, and of course mirrors are all employed for psychological purposes. But really this movie is an entertaining thriller that is palatable for general audiences. You don’t have to be a Van Damme or martial arts freak to enjoy Maximum Risk.

Say what you will about him, but Van Damme has more emotion than Chuck Norris. Or Don "The Dragon" Wilson. Speaking of Wilson, just as his Bloodfist movies are all 80 minutes, it seems another contract demand of Van Damme is that his movies be at least 100 minutes. Maximum Risk is no exception, so naturally there’s some filler, but not much. And a classic cliche is on display: the “wacky taxi driver” is on show once again, but at least this time he has a more substantial part to play than usual.

Following another JCVD rule, there has to be a scene where he gets nude or semi-nude. Why, we don’t know. Here it’s the time-honored bathhouse fight, also seen in such movies as Red Heat (1988) and Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991). But at least there’s some Natasha Henstridge nudity as well to right the ship. Henstridge, in only her second-ever movie role (after Species, 1995), looks great, and it’s sad to see her end up in Scott Wiper crud like A Better Way to Die (2000), but hey, you gotta make a living.

Maximum Risk is solid, undemanding entertainment seemingly made to make the careers of Van Damme and Ringo Lam go over well with larger audiences. Watching it today, it’s classic 90’s fun that’s easy to like.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


The Quest (1996)

The Quest (1996)-* *1\2

Directed by: Jean-Claude Van Damme

Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Roger Moore, James Remar, Janet Gunn, Abdel Quissi, Louis Mandylor, Aki Aleong, and Jack McGee

Set in the 1920's, Chris Dubois (Van Damme) is a street performer who wears clown makeup, a funny hat, and walks on stilts for a living. Adventure finds him when he ends up a stowaway on a boat heading to mysterious Muay Thai Island. There he learns martial arts, and, later in Tibet, meets the charming Lord Dobbs (Moore) and his assistant Smythe (McGee). It is around this time that Chris seeks to be involved in Ghan Geng, a secret underground fighting tournament. The winner gets a huge golden dragon, so Dobbs has a stake in Chris winning, as he wants the Dragon. 

Fighters are invited from all over the world , and America is represented by boxer Maxie Devine (Remar). Chris must take his place in the tournament and defeat the sinister Khan (Quissi) to win it all. Also, there's some mild romance with the prerequisite female reporter Carrie Newton (Gunn).

 Van Damme does a solid, professional job with his directional debut. Having co-written the film with Bloodsport (1988) dude Frank Dux, you pretty much know what to expect - but this movie is rated PG-13, so it was clearly trying to bring the Punchfighting genre some mainstream acceptance. With its slick Hollywood look and booming, sweeping score by Randy Edelman, the final product is perfect for 13-year olds, presumably its target demographic.

Interestingly, the movie is a period piece, and plays like a prequel to Bloodsport. Instead of The Kumite, It's Ghan Geng. Van Damme tries on a number of personas  from "Old Man Van Damme" to "Van Damme The Clown" and many things in between. The presence of Roger Moore adds class and respectability to the proceedings, and James Remar of Quiet Cool (1986) fame stands out as Devine. He's always worth seeing. Janet Gunn from Night Of The Running Man (1995) and The Sweeper (1996) is the eye candy but not much else.

 It's important to remember this was when video games like Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter were at the peak of their popularity. So when the Ghan Geng section of the movie begins (pretty much the last half) - the plot just STOPS. It's just one fighter from one country facing off against another fighter from another country. It gets repetitive and pretty numbing after awhile. Other Punchfighters don't do this. 

They vary the Punchfighting scenes with other plot-based stuff. Not so here. Plus the fact the movie is kind of on the long side doesn't help matters. What The Quest should have been is an 80 minute R-rated Punchfighter. Simply cutting the length but adding more violence would have helped immensely. But they weren't going for that audience, unfortunately.

The Quest is more of a big "adventure" film where characters are seeking a "lost city" and many countries and time periods are represented. This might be a good way to start younger viewers on a career of watching Van Damme movies\action movies\Punchfighters but only Van Damme or perhaps Roger Moore completists need apply. 

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


Nowhere To Run (1993)

Nowhere To Run (1993)-*1\2

Directed by: Robert Harmon

Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Rosanna Arquette, Kieran Culkin, Tiffany Taubman, Joss Ackland, and Ted Levine

Clydie (Arquette) is an attractive widow trying to raise her two kids, Mookie (Culkin) and Bree (Tiffany Taubman) on their family farm. Sam (Van Damme) is a mysterious prison escapee living on their land in a tent. Over time, Sam endears himself to the family, especially because the young Mookie is desperately searching for a father figure after the death of his own dad. Sam couldn’t have come along at a better time, because classic evil land baron Franklin Hale (Ackland) wants to take Clydie’s land and build a multi-million dollar development. So naturally he sends out his goons of various stripes to muscle the farm away. But not on Sam’s watch. Will Sam join Clydie’s fam? Or will yet another megalomaniacal land developer develop a way to keep them apart?

Ah yes, let’s take a trip down memory lane...it wasn’t so long ago that every Van Damme (and even Seagal movie, as hard as that is to believe now) went to the movie theater. JCVD had yet to become synonymous with DTV, and this film is quite mainstream. It has a highly polished, theater-ready look and feel. But because, after all, it’s still a Van Damme action movie, it’s still dumb and Van Damme has a ton of silly one liners that really don’t even make any sense.

Really, he just seems confused. In just about every scene, whether he be peeping into Rosanna Arquette’s window as she takes a bath, cooks a steak in the rural wilderness while wearing a suit, or just chillin’ in his pup tent with the latest issue of Top Heavy magazine, Van Damme seems oddly off-kilter in his performance. But that doesn’t stop him from showing his (presumably male) audience his time-honored unnecessary and un-asked for nudity. Rather than yet another eyeball-rolling shot of his naked butt, what this movie really needed was more goons for him to fight, more action scenes, and just more fight scenes in general. This is Van Damme here, after all.

Nowhere To Run also needed more verve and a streamlined plot. And what goons there are happen to be not evil enough. They should have done something REALLY evil and then Sam could go after them on a no-holds-barred revenge mission. That would have been awesome. Unfortunately however, this is run-of-the-mill Van Damme with few surprises. (Although what surprises remain are pretty good).  The plot of the mysterious stranger that comes to a ranch to protect a family from the no-good-niks in town is ground well-covered since the days of the earliest Westerns, and Van Damme playing Monopoly with 2 kids and a song by Damn Yankees tacked on the soundtrack doesn’t really add much new to the old formula.

One more thing: Without any spoiler, let us just say this: the ending is UNBELIEVABLY lame. It’s one of the lamest - if not THE lamest ending to an action movie we’ve ever seen. The movie itself isn’t nearly good enough to justify or counterbalance such a disappointing ending. It’s not like “whoa, that movie was awesome, so, okay, we forgive how much the ending sucks.” No. The ending just sucks, period. It drags the whole movie - everything we’ve just seen and invested in - down.

Nowhere To Run is standard (actually, probably below-standard) Van Damme fare and despite a few bright spots, it’s really nothing to get too excited about.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Derailed (2002)

Derailed (2002)-*1\2

Directed by: Bob Misiorowski 

Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Laura Harring and Tomas Arana

Jacques Kristoff (Van Damme) is a family man with a wife, a son and a daughter. He is given a mission by his superiors to track down a mysterious woman named Galina Konstantin (Harring). As it turns out, Galina is hiding a deadly bio-weapon - a mutated form of smallpox enhanced with other, newer pathogens. This is discovered while Jacques is escorting Galina on a train from Bratislava to Munich. Things really get complicated when a gang of terrorists headed by Mason Cole (Arana) hijack the train and attempt to steal the smallpox. In the ensuing confusion, a vial is broken and it goes into the ventilation system of the train, making a lot of people sick. Not the least of which is Jacques’ family, who surprised him by showing up on the train. Can Jacques save his family, stop the bio-terror from spreading, combat the terrorists, convince his wife he’s not cheating on her with Galina, and save the train from getting DERAILED?

Unfortunately, Derailed is stupid, junky, and is just plain filler in the career of Van Damme. Sadly, despite the presence of Van Damme, this movie isn’t really much different from any other Nu-Image or Millennium production. It has loathsome CGI, including CGI sparks, and is edited from probably countless other sources (which would explain why certain things may seem familiar if you‘ve seen Direct Contact). Speaking of editing, there are a lot of dumb, unnecessary editing effects that call attention to the cruddiness of this production, instead of covering it up, which we assume was the original intention.

Basically this movie is a ripoff/mishmash of movies such as Die Hard (1988), Speed (1994), The Taking of Pelham 123 (1974), and even Strategic Command (1997). But the most obvious “influence” is surely Under Siege 2: Dark Territory (1995). Clearly messing with perfection, the filmmakers must have watched that and said, “the only thing that would make this better is if Van Damme was in it and not Seagal!” And while Derailed doesn’t add much new to the formula, it does have a cool scene where Van Damme rides a motorbike on top of the speeding train. But even this movie highlight didn’t live up to its potential.

Stunt coordinator Mike Kirton, who also worked with Van Damme on The Quest (1996), probably wished he was back working on Heat (1986) and Malone (1987) with Burt Reynolds in the good old days.

Also featuring a guy who looks exactly like Joe Don Baker as the stereotypical Texan, and the baddies in red berets and fatigues that are more common in Nu-Image movies than Star Wars stormtroopers, we can’t forget the main title rap song, which is catchy and it seems like the uncredited rappers must have watched the movie to formulate their lyrics. I wonder if they found it challenging to fulfill their mandate to write a rap about a movie that has more obvious miniatures than most kids’ train sets.

Derailed is not a standout moment in the storied Van Damme career.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


The Shepherd: Border Patrol

The Shepherd: Border Patrol (2008)-* * *

Directed by: Isaac Florentine

Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Scott Adkins, Natalie J. Robb, Gary McDonald, and Todd Jensen

Jack Robideaux (Van Damme) is a cop from New Orleans who comes to the small town of Columbus, New Mexico to start on their border patrol. It seems a gang of drug smugglers, including Karp (Adkins), are made up of former U.S. Soldiers gone bad. Now Jack, his partner Billy (McDonald) and Captain Ramona Garcia (Robb) have to get to the truth. Additionally, some folks in this dusty ol’town don’t take kindly to newcomers, so Jack, and his pet rabbit, also named Jack (there’s an explanation) must defend himself there from the locals. After some twists and turns in the plot, we finally get to the fight scene between Scott Adkins and Van Damme that we all want. Will human Jack and rabbit Jack get what they came to New Mexico for?

We’re happy to announce that The Shepherd is a winner! Overall this is a solid, entertaining, quality movie that delivers the goods. And why wouldn’t it, as it was directed by the capable and dependable Isaac Florentine, whose name is becoming synonymous with satisfying action creations. This movie really should have gone to the theater in America. Sure, there’s at least one scene that’s a bit too long, and there might be some other quibbles here and there, but this movie is prime JCVD all the way.

Naturally, Van Damme plays yet another guy with a French name. This harks back to past JCVD efforts, while references in the movie to hurricane Katrina, the war in Afghanistan, and of course, the issues surrounding the U.S./Mexico border firmly bring The Shepherd into current, relevant territory. It is somewhat lame that the bad guys are former U.S. Soldiers - what, they couldn’t think of any other type of person that could be evil? - but we get it, they are “rogue” agents and all that. But it’s puzzling why that’s the place the writers went to.

They even find time to sneak in some Punchfighting! Sure, it’s unnecessary, but who cares? It’s just fun. Of course, there’s the prerequisite torture scene, which is just another excuse for shirtlessness. 

We love Scott Adkins, and he does a good job as one of the baddies, but we think he makes a better good guy. Someone we’ve always lovingly compared Adkins to is Gary Daniels, and it would be weird seeing him as a baddie (even though it has happened, mainly in the earlier part of his career). That aside, Adkins is a talented martial artist and has strong screen presence. His fight with Van Damme gives you what you want. They would team up again in the disappointing and inferior Assassination Games (2011). Also Van Damme has a pet turtle in that movie. Either a rabbit or a turtle, and Scott Adkins. But that’s where the similarities between the two movies end.

The Shepherd just goes to show that if you use Van Damme right, he’s still a viable star. This can firmly be placed in Van Damme’s win column.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett


Bloodsport (1988)

Bloodsport (1988)-* * *1\2

Directed by: Newt Arnold

Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Donald Gibb, Leah Ayres, Roy Chiao, Forest Whitaker and Bolo Yeung

It’s definitely time we reviewed this classic! As you surely know, Frank Dux (Van Damme) is an “American” martial artist who has gone through rigorous training since he was a kid by his master Tanaka (Chiao). When Frank takes part in the most underground, no-holds-barred, to-the-death fighting tournament in the world, the Kumite, most people try to stop him. That includes love interest Janice Kent (Ayres), and Dux’s army superiors Helmer (Burton) and Rawlins (Whitaker). But Dux becomes buddies with Ray Jackson (Gibb), a charismatic tough man, and they support each other. But will anyone have what it takes to defeat the sinister, murderous fighter Chong Li (Bolo)?

Man, did Cannon really hit one out of the park this time. Not only did it set the careers of Van Damme and Forest Whitaker in motion, it almost singlehandedly set the mold for all the many Punchfighters to come. Of course, to the Bloodsport people, it’s not just fighting, it’s a “martial science”. I guess martial arts are just too lowbrow for them. The Kumite has no weight divisions, so hulking brutes fight against skinny wimps without a second thought. Guys even have quirky, unique styles, and even the “knockoffs” are quality productions - look at Shootfighter (1992). And the “knockoff” even spawned a sequel! Such is the awesome power of Bloodsport.

But they say the word “Kumite” many times, so that’s this movie’s version of Best of the Best 2 (1993)’s constant repetition of the word “Brakus”. When these action movie people come up with a good word, they really don’t let you forget it.

JCVD never gets tired of showing us that he can spread his legs widely (and weirdly), and he has plenty of funny facial expressions. He’s supposed to be American, but his accent is pretty thick - “Belglish” is a bit more like it. He and Ogre have good chemistry together. Sure, Gibb is great, and he brings the movie up, but what would it be like had the role been played by Jack S. Daniels? But Van Damme as the “spiritual warrior” and Gibb as the brash basher is a winning combo.

It’s colorful, it’s fun, it’s entertaining, and it’s fast paced. It also has some great songs and Hong Kong locations. What more could you ask for? Also there are some first-generation tasers on display, as well as other cool 80‘s stuff like the Karate Champ arcade game.

If you haven’t yet, see the much-imitated but never duplicated charm of Bloodsport.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Cyborg (1989)

Cyborg (1989)-*1\2

Directed by: Albert Pyun

Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Deborah Richter, Vincent Klyn, Matt McColm, Dayle Haddon, Alex Daniels, and Ralf Moeller

In a desolate, post-apocalypse world, Gibson (Van Damme) is a fighter hired to escort a cyborg named Pearl (Haddon) who has a potential cure for a plague that is decimating what’s left of the world’s population. They have to get from New York to Atlanta, but along the way there are murderous baddies who want the cure for themselves. These so-called “Pirates” are led by Fender (Klyn). But Gibson has his own reasons for wanting to take down the evil gang. Will Gibson fight his way through the obstacles to save the world?

Released in the golden year of 1989, the same release year as the far-superior Bloodsport (1989), Cyborg is basically an afterthought for Van Damme in ‘89. It’s like Cannon had some excess film so they gave it to Albert Pyun to play around with. Bad idea. While Cyborg, amazingly, was theatrically released and spawned two sequels, it turned out to be the last theatrically-released Cannon movie in the U.S. It’s not a great note to go out on.

Pyun has proven time and again he’s not a talented filmmaker, and Cyborg really is no different from any post-apocalyptic slog. It’s in the same vein as American Cyborg: Steel Warrior (1993), Neon City (1991), or any number of Ron Marchini movies. The characters have wacky, ragged costumes, and there are a lot of capes on show. Capes are going to be huge in the future.

As far as the cast, besides Van Damme, we have Klyn as Fender, but due to the fact that he resembles a cross between Mario Van Peebles and our current president, we kept calling him “Mario Van Obama”. Seeing as Van Damme plays “Gibson Rickenbacker”, Klyn plays “Fender Tremolo” and Alex Daniels plays “Marshall Strat”, apparently also in the future you get a guitar name. Ralf Moeller is on show looking like some sort of ridiculous, long-haired caveman (named Brick Bardo of course, Pyun’s ubiquitous trademark name), and in his first movie role, none other than Matt McColm plays one of the Pirates.

So you’d think a movie with Van Damme, Moeller and McColm would be a surefire winner, but sloppiness, nonsensicality and a defiant lack of character development sink that quickly. There are some cool, bone-crunching fight sequences, but not enough to save the movie. These guys running around yet another abandoned warehouse isn’t all that interesting, but then there are some cyborg effects and a “Passion of the Van Damme” crucifixion, but none of it seems very competently handled.

If you know the Albert Pyun style of filmmaking (and if you do, we’re so sorry), Cyborg is more of the same. Personally we believe this is one of Van Damme’s weaker efforts, especially from the prime of his career when he was firing on all cylinders.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


No Retreat, No Surrender (1986)

No Retreat, No Surrender (1986)-* * *1\2

Directed by: Corey Yuen

Starring: Kurt McKinney, Kent Lipham, Timothy Baker, J.W. Fails, Kathie Sileno, Tae Chung Kim, Peter Cunningham, Ron Pohnel, Dale Jacoby, and Jean-Claude Van Damme

Tom Stillwell (Baker) is an L.A. Karate instructor, and his son Jason (McKinney) is one of his students. When the elder Stillwell runs into some trouble with gangsters, notably the evil Ivan “The Russian” Kraschinsky (Van Damme), the family heads up to Seattle to start a new life. Things are looking up when Jason makes friends with R.J. (Fails), but then a series of bad events causes Jason to despair and re-evaluate his life. Jason is an admirer of - nay - obsessed with Bruce Lee. He attempts to model his life after the legendary figure, even going to his gravesite and talking to him. Meanwhile, his confidence begins to grow, and it all leads to the final confrontation with Ivan. But Jason will have help from a very special trainer...

No Retreat, No surrender is classic 80’s fun at its best. Well-known director Corey Yuen invests the film with a lot of energy, whether it be fighting sequences, training sequences, or just scenes of over-the-top drama or comedy, something is always going on and you’re never bored. The great music even inspires several dance sequences apropos of nothing, and even R.J. gets in on the fun with an impromptu rap/dance when he first meets Jason. Isn’t that what you did when you met your new best friend?

A lot of the conflict in the film is not driven by the supposed antagonist Van Damme, but by nefarious fat kid Scott (Lipham). There are plenty of hijinks as this corpulent busybody inexplicably commands an army of fellow no-good punks. He even kicks things off with the disparaging comment (directed at Jason), “he said L.A. Karate is better than Seattle Karate”. Who knew this ancient rivalry stirred such forceful feelings? Or that it existed at all? Yes, the time-honored “L.A. vs. Seattle” Karate battle started it all.

While Van Damme is always front-and-center on all the artwork for this movie, his screen time is very limited. He shows up at the beginning and the end, and has minimal dialogue. Pretty much all he says is “I’m the best” and maybe a few other brief things, though he does find time to do one of his trademark splits. His character of an evil Russian named Ivan who is emotionless and says little seems modeled after Rocky IV’s Ivan Drago. During the final end brawl, the “Seattle Sidekicks” which consist of Dean “Shooting Star” Ramsay (Jacoby) and Ian “Whirlwind” Reilly (Pohnel), battle Ivan, who, also without explanation, enters the ring not with the gangsters from earlier in the film, but a posse of Hispanics.

And while Van Damme’s credit in the opening sequence is “Ivan the Russian”, his end credits name is, once again with no explanation, Karl Brezdin! Could this be an oversight? because if so, what an oversight! Or is it yet another movie where Van Damme does a double role? Who knew that trend started here?

Seeing as the movie was written by Keith Strandberg, it has some familiar trademarks of his style - he also wrote the two NRNS sequels, as well as King of the Kickboxers (1990), American Shaolin (1991), and Bloodmoon (1997), among other items, so if you’ve seen any of those, you get the idea.

The song “Stand on Your Own” (and if I may add some more lyrics: “There’s no retreat and no surrender-er-errrrr!!!”) by Paul Gilreath is memorable, and it’s no wonder, as Gilreath is also credited with additional music for the classic Knights of the City (1985).

It’s fun, upbeat, and even childish (in a great way), so like Jason and R.J., make “No Retreat, No Surrender” a personal motto to live by.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty


Assassination Games (2011)

Assassination Games (2011)-* *

AKA: Weapon

Directed by: Ernie Barbarash 

Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme and Scott Adkins

"If I don't feel, am I really alive?"

Vincent Brazil (Van Damme) is a rather stoic hitman. Roland Flint (Adkins) is also a hitman. Both men have as their latest target one Polo (Kaye), a ruthless murderer, torturer and drug runner. Naturally, at first Flint and Roland don’t get along, but they come together because of their common goal of killing Polo. Both have different reasons for wanting this: Brazil’s is pure business, but Flint has much more personal motivations. Who will win the ASSASSINATION GAMES?

We really, really wanted to like this movie. We gave it a ton of slack. We had high hopes. But the simple fact is, unfortunately, Assassination Games just isn’t that great. It’s not offensively BAD per se, but it’s so unbelievably cliched, and is so predictable, and without so much as a wink to the audience, it grates on the viewer. If there isn’t one speck of originality, and there are cliches in EVERY scene, and it’s totally paint by numbers, that’s one thing. But the movie takes itself so seriously, you have to wonder if the filmmakers knew just how hugely cliched it was, or if they actually thought it was original. In fact, in one scene alone, they manage to fit in three classic cliches: “He’s the best”, “No loose ends”, and “No more mistakes”. I would say they were doing it to save time, but this movie is overlong, so it can’t be that.

To be fair, there are some cool moments, which include the “Auto-gun” thingy (not to be confused with the President’s Auto-pen, who I’m told is mounting an election bid in 2012), and Scott Adkins gives an admirably non-phoned-in performance, but the movie has that modern, washed-out, green look that so many movies have had in the 2000’s. That in itself is an irritating cliche, as if normal film doesn’t exist. And when it’s announced on screen in the beginning of the movie, “Bucharest, Romania”, we thought, “do they even have to say this any more?” Isn’t it just kind of assumed at this point?

Plus there are some stupid CGI gun muzzle flashes, as if THEY didn’t exist prior to 2011. Is it really easier to do it that way? Do they think audiences like seeing Playstation 1-style graphics horribly mutilated into a piece of film? Why is that somehow BETTER? Can anyone answer this?

What’s funny is Van Damme is so Damme wooden in this movie, he makes Don "The Dragon" Wilson look like Klaus Kinski. But Van Damme was a producer on this film, and usually in his co-produced movies he cares, so it can’t be a matter of not caring, it’s just a hilarious choice of woodenness. The power team of Adkins and Van Damme is out in force once again after the far superior The Shepherd (2008), and if you have to see one Van Damme/Adkins team-up, that would be the one. Interestingly, in The Shepherd, Van Damme has a pet bunny, and in Assassination Games, he has a pet turtle. Moving on...

I’m surprised it took us to this point in the review to mention this, as it’s pretty important, as well as evident, but this movie is pretty much a carbon copy of The Mechanic (2011) with Statham. We can’t list all the similarities here for space reasons, but let’s just say, if you do a double feature, watch the Mechanic first. You may get a feeling of Deja Van Vu...

As much as we wish it could go in the Van Damme win pile, sadly it cannot. Adkins tries hard to rescue the sinking ship, but he can’t. Only Van Damme or Adkins fans should play this Game.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett