Source: Region 1 DVD (Sony)
Running time: 01:53:07
review of the original UNIVERSAL SOLDIER, I ended up watching the series backwards. DAY OF RECKONING was my first experience with the series, but it's so damn weird that I felt it would be best to go back and watch the other movies in an attempt to try to make sense of this one. That turned out to be a waste of time, because DOR is its own beast entirely, although it does have some loose ties to its predecessor, REGENERATION.
Scott Adkins, for those of you who don't know, is one of the top guys in the straight-to-DVD Action world right now. He's a legit badass, he's built like a brick shithouse, and he's very prolific as an actor. Here, he plays lead character John - a husband and father and the victim of a brutal home invasion that sees his family killed and him nearly beaten to death. John wakes up in a hospital and is questioned by FBI agents. He eventually gets out but walks with a limp because of his injuries. He teams up with a stripper who he somehow has ties to, and together they go on a search for answers, and the Universal Soldier mythology feels more or less shoe-horned into what is basically an ultraviolent paranoid thriller of sorts. Meanwhile, Andrei "The Pitbull" Arlovski from REGENERATION is back, sporting a beard, and going on a killing spree while seemingly under the control of the Feds. Arlovski's character busts into a whorehouse where a bunch of the Universal Soldiers are manhandling greasy hookers and goes berzerk with a shotgun.
What you just read wasn't a synopsis. It's just me trying my best to describe the crazy opening of DAY OF RECKONING. To synopsize the film would be difficult. The short version would be that John's character tries to hunt down the people who killed his family, but that wouldn't be doing this incredibly strange and violent movie justice. DOR is so far removed from the original UNIVERSAL SOLDIER that it's crazy. Director John Hyams took the series in a very interesting, no-bullshit direction with REGENERATION. With DOR, Hyams actually goes for an artsy-fartsy existential type of film while still maintaining the unrelenting style of violence from the previous film. There are two movies that seem to come up when people talk about this film (and for good reason), but I'll refrain from name-dropping them. Let's just say that one of them is an iconic Vietnam film and the other is a psychedelic film from one of French director with a confrontational and unique style. The reference to the 'Nam film has to do with how a certain character in this is presented. The comparisons to the French film I alluded to are purely visual and stylistic, from the creative camera shots to the seizure-inducing strobe sequences.
It's safe to say that, if you go into this movie blind, it's not gonna be what you're expecting. But then again, I pretty much just told you what to expect, so I guess that last sentence was pointless. The thing is, it could either be a good thing or a bad thing. DOR is essentially advertised as being something it's not. Neither Dolph nor Van Damme play a big part in this movie, but yet their presence is felt throughout. This is The Scott Adkins Show, but you'd never know that because of how it's marketed. In fact, you wouldn't know a whole lot about this movie because of how it's marketed, which is a shame. People will either be mislead into thinking that this is your typical straight-to-DVD Action movie when it's not the case, or they'll be pleasantly surprised by how much of a gem is hidden underneath the rather generic exterior.
I really can't narrow down why DAY OF RECKONING is such a great film to just one thing. So many elements play a factor, from the visuals and style to some of the memorable set-pieces, like the bizarre, trippy, and violent ride that the film takes you on in the last 25-30 minutes. I personally can't make sense of what the film is trying to say just based on a single viewing, but I was able to pick up on a few of the more obvious things. For one, the passing of information from one character to the next in rather unconventional ways that seem to be symbolic of something. An uprising of sorts involving the Universal Soldiers, who are now part of an underground movement and perhaps rebelling against their creators (and everyone else in the process). The Universal Soldiers killing off whatever human qualities they were clinging to and accepting their roles as monsters. A product that's reached its expiration date, and the subsequent ushering in of a new proverbial cog in the machine to replace the old one, which is sort of symbolic of both Dolph and Van Damme (as actors and action stars) being contrasted against the new kid on the block, Scott Adkins. (It should be said, though, that both Lundgren and JCVD are in phenomenal shape for their ages, and I find them to be much more interesting as actors as they get older.) Whatever the case, DAY OF RECKONING is a flawed film in some areas, but, as an Action movie, it's a breath of fresh air and certainly one of the more enjoyable genre movies I've seen in quite some time.
Read my review of UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: REGENERATION HERE.