August 27, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

Universal Soldier: The Return

Current Status
In Season
Jean-Claude Van Damme
We gave it a D+

You know a movie’s in trouble when its villains, who are referred to throughout as ”Unisols,” sound as if they’ve been named for a miracle bathroom-tile cleanser. In Universal Soldier: The Return, Jean-Claude Van Damme’s latest dud, defense-budget cuts result in the downsizing of the Universal Soldiers — deceased combat troops from Vietnam who’ve been resurrected and turned into killer cyborgs. Spurred by an evil computer, these hulking automaton warriors rise up in rebellion (i.e., they fire gargantuan laser guns and get into a lot of heavily amplified but extremely routine fistfights).

”Return” is a follow-up to the 1992 Roland Emmerich-Dean Devlin potboiler, but it’s actually the fourth entry in the series, after a couple of straight-to-cable sequels. That’s a lot of pulp to squeeze out of a concept that was fairly juiceless to begin with. While Van Damme’s Belgian pretty-boy sleekness has begun to fray at the seams, Michael Jai White (”Spawn”), as the Unisol ringleader, displays so much more playfulness and physical energy that we have absolutely no rooting interest in seeing rightness prevail.

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