There’s a moment in Universal Soldier III: Unfinished Business where, during a shootout in a hospital, a plastic container full of an aggressively yellow urine sample drops to the floor and breaks open, spilling its brackish contents everywhere and if that’s not an accurate visual metaphor for this flick I don’t know what is.
For those of you who’ve forgotten (and believe me, that’ll be most of you), the first two sequels to Roland Emmerich’s action punch-a-thon were horribly awkward, Canada shot, TV movies that recast the main characters with actors who were noticably worse than Jean Claude Van Damme in the vain hope that it would kickstart a TV series much in the same vein as Stargate.
Unsurprisingly, it failed, but that didn’t mean that 1998 had to pass not one, but two crappy sequels through its cinematic bowels.
Still reeling from the climax of Brothers In Arms that saw resurrected Vietnam soldier Luc Devreaux get reunited with his equally resurrected brother, Eric, only to lose him again to another, more permanent, bout of death. As Luc and on-the-run reporter Veronica Roberts try to get on with their lives, the shadowy puppet master pulling the strings is revealed to be the Mentor who turns out to be the Deputy Director of the CIA!
We pick up with Luc and Veronica as they continue to try and expose the UniSol programme by tracking down Veronica’s old contacts in Canada (convenient), however, after she sneaks into a snazzy conference, matters get all the more complicated when it’s taken over by domestic terrorists who seemingly has based their entire plan from viewing of Sudden Death. Led by the slinky Grace, their demands of one hundred million dollars (which gets upped to one million and ten simply out of spite) are scuppered by the heroic intervention of Luc who helpfully kills all the bad guys in the vicinity, but the misadventure not only makes Veronica seem even more guilty than she did before, but it also puts Luc back on the radar of the Mentor and the Unisol programme.
In case you were wondering, the Unisol programme hasn’t exactly been sitting on their resurrected hands during the interim and not only restocks their troops from the dead bodies of Grace and her dead-as-shit cronies, but are also growing a clone of Eric!
Christened with the catchy moniker of GR-44 and maturing at a creepy rate, the scene is set for Luc and Veronica to thwart the Mentor’s big plan to steal gold meant for German reparations to the Jewish (the fuck?) and finally bring down the Unisol’s once and for all.
Unfinished Business? Let’s hope they get round to finishing it this time.
There’s times when I sit back from obsessively reviewing movies and think “why am I doing this?” and while I’m certain many of you have read them while thinking the same, one of the toughest aspects of the “job” is trawling the absolute low point of a long running franchise. However, while other franchise low points mean you have to put up with a lame, but spirited Nightmare On Elm Street sequel or another adventure of Captain Jack Sparrow where it’s obvious that the producers are just milking that cash cow to death, Universal Soldier III is whole other kettle of reanimated fish entirely.
Remember, it’s bad enough that the two sequels were an abortive attempt to score a TV series, but you know things are bad when the franchise rebooted and seemingly claimed no knowledge that they even existed! Basically, if you actually saw Brothers In Arms, then you know what to expect, but somehow Unfinished Business manages to get even worse, doubling down on the previous film’s crapiness but bizarrely forgetting to install an actual plot and instead is formed by violently random occurrences that eventually mash into one another in the amusingly formless climax.
We follow Victoria (Chandra West doing her best to desperately move things along) and Luc (Matt Battaglia still giving a performance so stunted, he makes low rent, 80’s action cult star Reb Brown seem like Gary Oldman) as they wander from here to there, randomly tangling with terrorists in a subplot I can only sumise happened because someone snuck ten pages of a completely unrelated film into the script. Later they have to contend with the murder of Luc’s parents (left off screen so as to negate any drama whatsoever) and the cloning of Luc brother Eric (Michael Wincott looks more surprised at his return than anyone) that not only contains some creepy grooming as the head scientist (played by the director himself) grows and trains him from a baby in less than a week, but is ultimately resolved in under seven minutes when the Eric fights his brother, regains his memory and then is blown up with an implanted bomb in double quick time.
Worse yet, way more time is allotted to a slumming Burt Reynolds’ as he steps out of the literal shadows of the previous film and has you debating which is shifter, his nefarious plan or his continuing insistence on mangling his shaky Irish accent. Sleepwalking through his role, you can’t help but feel like Deliverance was a depressingly long time ago and as he reels of lines of important plot and motivation in a disjointed and haphazard way, you grow suspicious that Reynolds genuinely may not be aware of what the fucking plot is – and if he doesn’t know, what fucking chance do we have?
Aside from that and a lead who delivers all of his line as if he’s severely concussed (why is he still talking like a robot if he’s beaten the Unisol programming?), there’s a metric ton of goofs and wince inducing line readings to keep bad movie junkies hooked. When Grace spots the hulking form if Luc squeezed into an unconvincing bus boy disguise, she squeals “You must lift some heavy dishes, baby!”, and lets not forget the guy who avoids the standard Unisol brainwashing and wails “I’m dead! Everything is not ok!”.
The action is cheap as it is stupid with one guy’s firearm making a silencer sound despite there visibly not being one attached to the gun and another moment seeing an ambulance driven through a hole in a metal fence that still causes something to inexplicably explode despite the vehicle and barrier both being notably undamaged.
Only a year would pass until the powers that be cast these two miserable sequels into the void of non-cannon, never to return and gave us a “proper” sequel that reinstated JCVD as the franchise’s VIP, which is weirdly fitting when the series concerns heroes being brought back from the dead…
Unfinished business? More like unfinished movie.