They had to drag Dolph Lundgren back to the “Universal Soldier” franchise with “Universal Solder: Day of Reckoning.” After working on the 2010 sequel, “Regeneration,” the 55-year-old actor wasn’t thrilled to be returning to the world of undead soldiers spawned by the first film in the 20-year-old franchise. In that film, he and co-star Jean-Claude Van Damme were Vietnam vets killed in action and resurrected by a secret government program. Dolph played Andrew Scott, the crazy one who was happy to keep cutting and shooting his way through bystanders as Van Damme’s Luc Devereaux began regaining his humanity.
The premise allowed several direct-to-DVD sequels to keep the series to keep loping along like a zombie for two decades until John Hyams directed a pair of completely unhinged sequels starting with 2010’s “Regeneration,” and “Day of Reckoning,” which made a brief run of the genre festival circuit before recently hitting DVD and Blu-ray from Magnet Releasing. Lundgren says that it was only after Hyams reworked the script, which sees actor Scott Adkins diving headlong through a fractured identity/”Heart of Darkness” story with machete fights, that he was willing to be a part of the film.
“It’s kind of a horror movie, really” Lundgren says of “Day of Reckoning,” which doesn’t just increase the gore and graphic violence (which it does), but proceeds as a steady-burn piece of dread as Adkins’ character John, having recently survived the murder of his wife and daughter at the hands of Luc Devereaux begins walking a path of revenge that puts him on a collision course with the cyborg soldier program.
Although Lundgren’s character was clearly the villain in the first film, he says this time out “there are no bad guys.” “My character is kind of a spiritual leader for these guys and verbalizes some of their concerns and where they come from and how they feel about being used[…] It was certainly more levels to it than some of the other stuff that’s been done in this franchise.”
Lundgren says “Day of Reckoning” injects the series with humor and compassion amid all of the blood and guts. And it’s true: while not especially profound, you feel for John’s story and his curious disassociation from a world that’s starting to look increasingly familiar. He doesn’t know what kind of violence or horror he’s capable of, but at a certain point, he discovers that there’s something awful inside of him that may simply be the project of out of control defense spending.
While Adkins is the star here, Lundgren’s meaty part (including a brutal mano-a-mano beatdown) is part of a recent career renaissance for the actor. He’s never stopped working since his introduction to American audiences as Soviet boxer Ivan Drago in “Rocky IV,” but since appearing in “The Expendables” back in 2010 (he says it’s the biggest action film he’s been in), Lundgren’s been acting in or attached to any number of projects as audiences have begun getting all warm and fuzzy about the action stars of the 80’s and 90’s again.
While he’s appreciating all of the attention, he says that he’s been enjoying some of the smaller roles where “You can have a bit more fun with it and play around with it.” He’s trying to get outside of his tough guy comfort zone, saying that he’s taking time out to produce the indie drama/thriller “Without You I’m Nothing” for writer/actress Robin Bain. Lundgren describes this one as a dark/funny piece about a would-be actress from the Midwest who becomes a stripper, “a grown-up movie” on his filmography looking at the shady behind-the-scenes lives of the dancers. He’s also joining the TV series “Rescue 3″ as the leader of a coastal rescue team. He’s quick to add with this last role that there’s no violence in the show.
“I’ve done a lot of movies that are very similar over the last 20 years, so I’m just trying to get away from that a little bit.” He says that it’s time that he let audiences see different parts of him as a performer and throwing out some surprises here and there to keep them guessing. He laughs when I ask him what kind of advice he’d give to aspiring action stars out there right now: “Hardcore action gets more painful to execute. So you want to keep one foot in another camp where you can [show off] your personality. And in my case, like you said, I’ve done so many movies and have a certain image that you can do a little less.”
“Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning” is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Magnolia Pictures.