I'm always surprised that Jean-Claude Van Damme didn't spend more time mixing his action with either sci-fi or horror because some of his better, or at least more interesting, films (Cyborg, Timecop, Replicant, and this one being the main titles I can think of). This is a sci-fi action movie with one or two moments that feel very much lifted from the horror genre, and it's superbly entertaining stuff.
JCVD and Dolph Lundgren are two soldiers who die in combat. Unfortunately, they each died at the hands of the other. Lundgren went crazy, see, and was killing innocent people, cutting off their ears, and using them to make a necklace. When the two are given a second life in the military UniSol project, all goes well for a while before memories start floating back to the surface and causing glitches. Van Damme goes on the run with a plucky reporter (Veronica Roberts, played by Ally Walker), and Lundgren starts killing anyone who gets in between him and the traitor he is determined to fatally punish. And he still has his thing about ears.
Before they became known as world-destroyers, director Roland Emmerich and producer Dean Devlin made some fantastic little b-movies that had the benefit of either a great pool of talent or a great blend of ideas, or both. Devlin wrote the screenplay here, he wasn't in full producer mode yet, and Emmerich was moving up from the likes of Ghost Chase and Moon 44, and this already shows some signs of how their future careers would pan out. You get that great central idea, you get some fantastic set-pieces, there's a supporting cast that features a number of familiar faces I will mention below, and they're not worried about squeezing everything into a tight 90 minutes (which works here, but doesn't necessarily work for all of their movies).
Van Damme gives one of his best performances here, mixing his favoured naivete with great fighting moves and some fleeting nudity to please a large portion of his fanbase. Having said that, Lundgren steals the show with his maniacal villain. His enjoyably over the top performance is what helps to keep this near the top of the JCVD pile. Walker also does very well, she's one of the quirkier female leads to work alongside our action star, and she has a nice balance of vulnerability, bravery, and comedic line delivery. Ralf Moeller is another UniSol, Ed O'Ross is the man in charge of the whole operation for a short while, Jerry Orbach is a doctor who helped create the soldiers, and Tommy 'Tiny' Lister is hard to miss in his small role (can you ever describe his screentime as a small role, considering the size of the guy?).
If you haven't seen Universal Soldier by now, and if you are a fan of action movies, then you owe it to yourself. It holds up almost as well today as it did back in the early '90s, remaining a top-tier outing for both Van Damme AND Lundgren.
This is a good way to own most of the notable entries in the series.
Americans may just want the original on Blu.