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Universal Soldier III: Unfinished Business
Tonight's Feature Presentation

UNIVERSAL SOLDIER III: UNFINISHED BUSINESS (1999)

Starring: Matt Battaglia, Chandra West, Burt Reynolds, Richard McMillan, Claudette Roche

Written By: Peter M. Lenkov Directed By: Jeff Woolnough

The Short Version

A failed TV pilot gets split into two movies; this is the second.

The first part was painfully bad; this part is painfully boring.

This part is only worth seeing if you’ve already seen what came before, and even then, just on a dare.

You’ve gotta hope that Burt Reynolds got paid a lot of money for this.

Universal Soldier III: Unfinished Business is so bad that even laughing at it may be a stretch.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

FAT FREE KRAFT SINGLES.

Processed beyond recognition, flavorless, and boring.


Pairs Well With...

IRISH COFFEE.

Made with the cheapest Irish cream you can find, to match Burt’s lousy accent.  The coffee part is to keep you awake.

“Aw, what do you call that?  Tae Kwon Don’t?”


When reflecting on the worst of his films, legendary actor Burt Reynolds once commented that they “…were the kind they only show in prisons and in airplanes, because no one can leave.”  I would dare to suggest that this assessment is inaccurate, however, simply because there’s no way any airline would touch Universal Soldier III: Back in Business.  After all, they do want the passengers to come back for another flight later on.

[If you’ve read the Universal Soldier II: Brother in Arms review, the next two paragraphs of background will look familiar.]

Back in 1992, Universal Soldier sprang forward from nowhere as the surprise action hit of the summer, grossing over $100 million worldwide despite being generally reviled by mainstream critics.  (Reality check: that game was still dominated by stodgy newspapers at the time.)  Usually, studios see that kind of success and run with it immediately; that is, after all, how we got franchises like the Friday the 13th series or even the Police Academy flicks.  For some odd reason, though, the powers that be chose to just sit on the success of Universal Soldier and do nothing with it…

…until six years later, when someone decided that it would be a great idea to make a television series based on Universal Soldier.  An extended pilot was filmed, and the results were such that the TV people ran away screaming.  Studios may be wasteful, but they’re not that wasteful (especially when tax incentives are involved), and so the three-odd hours of film on hand was edited into a pair of direct to video/cable flicks which were credited as Universal Soldier II: Brothers in Arms and Universal Soldier III: Unfinished Business, and which are more popularly known today as Universal Soldier 2 and Universal Soldier 3 (which is how I will be addressing them from this point forward).  Of course, I use the term “popular” loosely, since even amongst fans, these aren’t very well known movies, but rather a pair that collect dust in the darkest corner of the video cabinet where, hopefully, innocent eyes will not be tainted by their malaise.  There’s a reason for that, folks.

In the case of Universal Soldier 3, the reason is that it somehow manages to be even worse than Universal Soldier 2, which was more than bad enough.  Everything that was awful about Universal Soldier 2 is still awful in Universal Soldier 3.  The male underwear models – including our heroic lead – still can’t act, the direction is still bad, and if anything, the writing got even more dreadful.  But the real nail in the coffin of this flick is that it’s not just bad… it’s boring.  And then some.

Our story begins with a selection of scenes from Universal Soldier 2 (helpfully labeled as such for those who didn’t know), re-edited to play in a different order than they appeared during the actual film in an apparent effort to have the plot make more sense than it did the first time around.  Frighteningly enough, this ploy actually kind of works, but I still don’t recommend seeing this installment until you’ve sat through Universal Soldier 2 in its entirety first.  (And no, I’m not trying to punish you.  As far as you know.)

In this episode (which, as already explained, it technically can be called), liberated UniSol Luc Deveraux (Matt Battaglia, Showgirls) and his determined reporter friend-who’d-like-to-be-more Veronica Roberts (Chandra West, The Salton Sea) remain on the run from both the corrupt powers behind the Universal Soldier program and the trumped up criminal charges that have been leveled against Veronica.  As we pick up their trail, they’re hiding out in Canada, where Veronica hopes to enlist the help of one of her former colleagues from the network.  Unfortunately, their meeting goes awry when terrorists pick that very moment to crash the party of computer moguls that Veronica’s friend had been covering and hold everyone hostage.

But before you can even finish thinking “Yay, they’re going to do the Die Hard thing now,” Luc shows up and dispatches the bad guys inside of thirty seconds.  Alas, Veronica’s friend has already been killed, and the terrorists were kind enough to frame her for that crime, too, before being taken out by Luc.

Meanwhile, as they continue to run, CIA Deputy Director (and secret boss of the UniSol program) Glen Risco (Burt Reynolds, Smokey and the Bandit) is hard at work trying to hang on to his awful Irish accent.  He’s also hatching his next two dastardly plots.  First, he plans to steal the gold being paid as restitution to Holocaust victims by Swiss banks, using the very terrorists Luc Deveraux just killed as new recruits to the UniSol program.  Second, he plans to finally get his hands on Luc by cloning his now twice-dead brother, Eric (Jeff Wincott, Battle Queen 2020), who was supposedly killed for good in the last installment.

They don’t actually film the megalodon being jumped, but you can tell it’s happening…

Given the nature of Universal Soldier 2 and Universal Soldier 3, it makes sense to pick them up as a double feature.  In for a penny, in for a pound, right?  Going further with that assumption, it also would seem reasonable as the end credits roll for Universal Soldier 2 to think that at least the next one can’t be any worse.

Never underestimate the power of filmmakers to come up with something worse.  I spent a total of two days thinking that Universal Soldier 2 was the worst excuse for an action movie I’d seen in years.  (Bear in mind that I had just watched Gymkata the month before.  Scary, huh?)  Then I watched Universal Soldier 3.

At least the other one gave you something to laugh at if you approached it the right way, but this?  No matter how much you enjoy watching lousy movies or how forgiving your attitude may be, the fact is that the only way you’ll be able to laugh at Universal Soldier 3 is if you’ve just had a few too many tokes of Cheech and Chong’s finest, if you know what I’m saying.  This movie is like a vampire: it sucks the life out of everything around it.  It’s not just bad.  It’s not just boring.  It’s actively disheartening to watch.  If you were already having a bad day, Universal Soldier 3 will make it worse.  Even those who normally take pleasure in making fun of trash will find their will to lampoon mysteriously drained to the point where even a faceplam and a “are you [your favorite profane expletive here] kidding me?” seems like too much effort.

Nor do the people directly involved escape the trap.  Chandra West easily gave the best performance in the previous movie and does so here again, but things are not the same.  The life is just gone; there’s no spark to what she does like there had been before.  Perhaps she’d already found out that this wasn’t going to be a regular paying gig like it would have been if the television series had been green lit; perhaps everyone had.  Or maybe she and the rest had taken the time to look around and realize what a resume stain they’d been caught up in.  (West would survive the taint; most others would not to as great a degree.)  Jeff Wincott makes some effort at livening things up by trying to demonstrate that he’s the only member of the cast who can actually look good in a fight, but director Jeff Woolnough denies him even that by once again stinking things up from the chair.  Woolnough has no idea how to showcase combat; his philosophy for how to portray fighting in Universal Soldier 3 is to use lots of camera cuts away from the action, random changes in film speed, and rock music.  I suspect that if he could have removed all of the fight scenes and replaced them with Ratt or Slayer videos, he would have, save that Ratt and Slayer would are out of his budgetary league and have too much relative class.  Instead, just when Wincott looks like he’s about to demonstrate what might be a decent kick, the camera cuts away to some random crap while Band Anonymous or something out of the Time Life catalog plays in the background.  Yay.

Gary Busey may have a reputation for being nuts, but he’s not stupid, so even though this flick is all about resurrection, he stayed away from Universal Soldier 3 and moved on to better things.  (And yes, compared to this, I am counting his becoming a commentator for “World’s Dumbest” as “better things.”)  This leaves us with the venerable Mr. Burt Reynolds, who is also not stupid and who is pretty clearly approaching this as a paycheck.  When a sane person is given the gift of Burt Reynolds, he takes advantage of everything he can get.  Here, though, the first thing that’s done is to strip him of his very identity as Burt Reynolds by covering up his distinctive voice with a really awful Irish accent.  From there, he’s basically reduced to posing and reading off monologues.  As a result, the audience is left with a bunch of shots that play as nothing more than Burt Reynolds standing for magazine poses and all of his acting ability instead channeled into trying to maintain that stupid accent while everything else gets phoned in.  Even with the understanding that Universal Soldier 3 is a lousy movie, this is still a role that an actor like Reynolds could have had some fun with (like Gary Busey did in the previous installment) if allowed to, but again, that soul-sucking black hole is there to kill the joy.

Meanwhile, one has to suspect that writer Peter M. Lenkov secretly referred to Universal Soldier III: Unfinished Business as Universal Soldier III: Screw It, because that’s the approach taken by the script here.  To call the plot inane is to be overly generous, and let’s be honest, though it’s standard practice to steal from headlines, maybe he could have thought of something better to steal than gold from Holocaust survivors, which is a potato that even the basest of lowbrow writers wouldn’t touch.  Not that anyone with a brain can fathom why they should need to steal anything anyway, considering that these people have already demonstrated that they can grow a human clone from a dead man’s cells to full adulthood in a matter of days, with full memory retention.  If you can do that, why steal money?  Every rich dude in the world would be lining up to pay for that kind of thing!  Assuming, of course, that the idea made any sense, which nothing about Universal Soldier 3 really does.  It’s as though Lenkov brainstormed the most ridiculous ideas he could imagine, wrote them on sticky notes, attached them to a corkboard, and then threw darts to see which ones he’d actually write in.  Surely, Greenpeace must have him on their most wanted list, because he jumped a lot of sharks to make this script happen.

And that’s before the movie closes out by suggesting that then-President Bill Clinton is himself a Universal Solider “Sleeper.”

No, I’m not kidding.  And yes, that’s worth about five shots in any drinking game you can think of.

With that said, though, Universal Soldier 3 does have one saving grace, and that is the fact that it does, indeed, end, never to come back.  Its television series hopes were officially dashed, and the “real” movie that would come on its heels was happy to go on as though none of the crap that was Universal Soldier 2 or Universal Soldier 3 ever happened.  The franchise, in effect, would undergo a dose of memory clearance, and that’s not really a bad thing at all.

Bottom line, Universal Soldier III: Unfinished Business is a boring, lifeless disaster from start to finish that is only even remotely watchable if you’ve already seen Universal Soldier II: Brothers in Arms and feel the need to complete the story arc.  If you are not seriously dedicated to the school of “crap as fine art,” there is really no reason at all to subject yourself to this movie.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, January, 2012


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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