Friday, August 30, 2019

Worth Mentioning - No Van Damme Sequels

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Four sequels to Jean-Claude Van Damme movies, none of them starring Van Damme.


Jean-Claude Van Damme played Soviet bad guys in a couple movies I feel like I should enjoy but have just never been able to get into. One is called Black Eagle and the hero is played by the great Sho Kusugi... but I find it a struggle to sit through. Another is one that has gained a cult following over the years: No Retreat, No Surrender. Basically a mash-up knock-off of The Karate Kid and Rocky IV, it's about a bullied teenager who is trained in martial arts by the ghost of Bruce Lee and ends up competing in a tournament where he faces Van Damme's character. It sounds great when described, but it's one of those movies where you have to enjoy how bad it is, and I don't find it to be "so bad it's good". It's just bad to me.

I can't get through No Retreat, No Surrender, but I do find its sequel-in-name-only No Retreat, No Surrender 2 to be easier to watch. Apparently the film did start off as a direct sequel to the first that was going to move the action from the west coast of the U.S. to Cambodia. But for various reasons, including Van Damme allegedly refusing to go to Cambodia because he didn't think it was safe, the original idea fell apart and director Corey Yuen had to find something else that could be filmed in Cambodia and co-star the already cast Cynthia Rothrock. The result, scripted by Maria Elena Cellino, Roy Horan, and Keith W. Stranberg, is a knock-off of Rambo: First Blood Part II and the Chuck Norris Missing in Action films.

Real-life taekwondo and hapkido black belt Loren Avedon plays an American guy named Scott Wylde, who has come to Bangkok, Thailand to visit two people - the man who taught him taekwondo, Vietnam War hero Mac Jarvis (Max Thayer), and his college sweetheart Sulin (Patra Wanthivanond). Just when it's looking like Scott's biggest challenge will be consuming the local cuisine - Sulin offers him some of her wealthy father's favorite dishes, including deep fried locust, steamed cicada, dried iguana, and tiger testicles - he finds himself in serious trouble when a group of men raid his hotel room and abduct Sulin while their associates break into Sulin's home and massacre her family. Only her father manages to escape.

The local authorities charge Scott with the murders, so he has to escape custody and seek the help of Mac, who explains that Sulin's father has been funding resistance fighters in an attempt to overthrow the Communist governments of Vietnam and Cambodia. The Communist armies and their Soviet backers don't appreciate that, so they're striking back against Sulin's father and hold her captive at a base in Cambodia to draw him out.

So Scott and Mac embark on their own rescue mission, accompanied by Rothrock's character, martial artist / helicopter pilot Terry, with whom Mac has a rocky relationship. He claims she hates him because he wouldn't sleep with her, she says he hates her because she always beat him in competitions. Whatever their problems are, they're set aside once they're in Cambodia, waging a three person war against Communist forces. The "big bad" of the film is I Come in Peace's Matthias Hues as a hulking Soviet soldier who can toss Rothrock around like a rag doll and likes to feed people to crocodiles.

No Retreat, No Surrender 2 is some low-rent B-movie nonsense that doesn't come anywhere near the quality of the films it's drawing inspiration from, but there are some good action moments. The movie mixes gunfire and explosions with hand-to-hand combat, and I was surprised and impressed by Avedon's performance in the fights. Although he has several martial arts movies on his filmography, this is the only one I've seen and I was left wanting to watch more Loren Avedon action movies. The only disappointment I had with this movie was how often it turned Rothrock into a damsel in distress.


Every time Jean-Claude Van Damme movies got straight-to-video sequels in the '90s, the video stores in my hometown would miss at least one of them. They may have gotten one or two of the Bloodsport sequels, but they definitely didn't get all three. Of the Kickboxer franchise, Kickboxer 5 never reached a video store in my town. Neither did Cyborg 3: The Recycler. I didn't even know this Cyborg sequel existed until I saw it listed in a movie review book.

Cyborg 2 director Michael Schroeder returned for this direct sequel to his film, which picks up with the cyborg Cash about eighty years down the line from the events of the previous film, right after she has buried her human lover Colt, who died of old age. What terrible timing it is, then, that this is when Cash finds out that she's pregnant, the first cyborg to conceive. A fetus is growing in the experimental womb she didn't even know she had. I'm not clear on who the father is meant to be, as they say she has a "cybernetic womb with a cryogenic sperm bank" but there's no mention of where the sperm came from. Was her body depositing Colt's sperm into this bank, or is this stuff that has just been sitting inside her since she was first put together? I guess Schroeder didn't think it was important to specify. Regardless of who the sperm donor was, Cash starts off wanting an abortion but soon becomes protective of the fetus growing inside her.

There wasn't a lot of time between the productions of Cyborg 2 and 3, but there was enough time in between for Angelina Jolie to decide that she didn't want to reprise the role of Cash in the sequel. Khrystyne Haje takes over the role here, and doesn't get to participate in fights like Jolie did since her character is pregnant for most of the movie. She gets to handle some guns, though, and luckily her womb can be removed to continue incubating the fetus outside of her body, so she's able to participate in the climactic action sequence. And kudos to Haje for pulling off a stunt where she has several dirt bikes flying over her head.

Written by Barry Victor, Troy Bolotnick, and Straw Weisman, the story takes place in a time when humans have turned against the cyborgs they created and now hunt them to collect their parts and circuitry. One such cyborg-hunting "recycler" is a fellow named Anton Lewellyn, played by frequent screen villain Richard Lynch (Trancers II, Puppet Master III). With the assistance of future Leatherface Andrew Bryniarski as a henchman called Jocko, Lewellyn sets out to catch and profit off of this pregnant cyborg Cash.

Cash goes on the run with cyborg designer Evans (Zach Galligan), heading through a desert wasteland in search of "CyTown", a force field protected town inhabited by rundown cyborgs, most of whom are missing parts. Among them is Michael Bailey Smith, The Hills Have Eyes remake's Pluto, as a gunslinging cyborg with damaged hands, and William Katt of House and Carrie as Decaf, a cyborg who is having some major glitches.

Another familiar face in this movie is Malcolm McDowell,  who drops by for less than 5 minutes to play Lord Talon, an ill-fated associate of Lewellyn's. It really seems like McDowell will show up in any movie that will offer to have him. His disregard for budget or quality has allowed him to rack up over 260 screen credits so far.

Cyborg 3 follows two movies that were low budget as well, but this feels like the cheapest of the bunch. Schroeder had a chance to shoot Cyborg 2 with some style, but this one just takes place in some broken down shacks in the desert. The decision to have most of the scenes take place outside in the desert during the day was almost certainly a budgetary one. This movie has some endearingly quirky characters, but that's pretty much all it has to offer.

A viewer isn't very likely to enjoy this unless they have a soft spot for low budget '90s action movies, which apparently I do now, even though I usually passed on this sort of thing back when it was being released. I liked Cyborg 2 when I was a kid mostly because of Jolie, but I never got into Cyborg 3 when I attempted to watch a couple stray airings on cable. Now I've finally sat through the whole thing, and didn't have a bad time doing so.


Jean-Claude Van Damme would eventually return for multiple sequels to his 1992 film Universal Soldier, but before the franchise got to that point it went to television. Two sequels were filmed back-to-back for The Movie Channel with the intention of having them lead into a Universal Soldier TV series. That plan didn't work out, though, and the movie series continued without bothering to address the events of the made-for-TV sequels.

The first of the two sequels was Universal Soldier II: Brothers in Arms, and it picks up immediately after the events of the '92 film. Actually, it picks up during the last moments of the '92 film, which means the climactic fight scene between Luc Devreaux, a.k.a. GR44, and Sgt. Andrew Scott, GR13, was reshot with former NFL player Matt Battaglia replacing Van Damme in the role of Luc and Andrew Jackson taking the role of Sgt. Scott over from Dolph Lundgren - but just for a couple minutes, because his Scott meets the same fate Lundgren's did at the end of Universal Soldier.

Director Jeff Woolnough and writer Peter M. Lenkov then carry things on from where Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin left off in '92, but it sure doesn't feel like they had two movies worth of story in mind. Brothers in Arms has an 89 minute running time, but maybe half of that is anything of substance.

If you've forgotten what happened in the first Universal Soldier, the text that appears on the screen at the beginning of this one recaps things pretty well: "In 1953 the U.S. government embarked on a top secret operation to create an elite military strike force. Code name: Universal Soldier. The procedure harvested dead soldiers, re-animated and genetically enhanced them with the objective of assembling the army of tomorrow. In 1998 the program was uncovered by a female journalist during a hostage crisis. In the aftermath, several Universal Soldiers were terminated... or went missing."

Government and military officials behind the UniSol program are now trying to clean up the mess left behind when Luc started to regain his memory before he died and became a Universal Soldier, and after Scott went on a spree of death and destruction when he reverted to his pre-death psychotic nature. Their first order of business is to get Luc to come back to them, and they accomplish that by using a computer to locate him and activate his "unit A.W.O.L. inhibitor", which seems like something they should have done early on in the previous movie, as soon as he went A.W.O.L.

With that inhibitor activated, Luc is compelled to report to the nearest UniSol base. He is followed there by reporter Veronica Roberts (played by Ally Walker in the first movie and by Puppet Master 4 and 5's Chandra West in these TV movies), who fell for Luc while they were on the run together - and who is still on the run, since UniSol has framed her for murder and drug offenses. While Luc is being brought back into the UniSol program and getting his memory wiped, Veronica discovers that this base happens to be the place where the body of Luc's older brother Eric (Jeff Wincott) is stored.

Luc was originally killed during the Vietnam War, and the fact that he had a brother who was also killed in Vietnam long before Luc was but was also resurrected is a completely unnecessary addition to the story... But it explains why this movie is called Brothers in Arms. Eric is alive again, but was never fully turned into a Universal Soldier because his body rejected the treatment. So it's easy for Veronica to get him to help her get Luc away from UniSol again.

The worst thing about this movie, aside from it being so uneventful, is that it allows Luc to have his memory wiped. We had just followed his progress of regaining his memories and figuring out who he was before UniSol in the previous movie, and now he's knocked back to square one. He doesn't even remember who Veronica is when she and Eric rescue him.

The primary villain of the film is CIA agent Otto Mazur, who is played by Gary Busey... and Busey sure does play him up in the way only he can. When we meet Mazur he guns down a bunch of soldiers so they can be resurrected as Universal Soldiers, but after he murders these guys we see that Mazur has a tear rolling down his cheek. That's when we know that we're in for some pure Busey cheese.

More cheese is provided by a shadow-shrouded Burt Reynolds as Mazur's boss, known as the Mentor. Reynolds was attempting to give his character an Irish accent for some reason, but it doesn't work. When the government decides to shut down the UniSol program, the Mentor decides it's time to rogue. He is so determined to keep the Universal Soldiers in action that he even turns them against the government.

Meanwhile Mazur is negotiating an arms deal where Universal Soldiers are the weapons he's promising to sell off in exchange for diamonds.

The goofy antics of Busey and Reynolds are pretty much the only things that make Brothers in Arms worth sitting through. Too much of the movie is focused on Luc getting his memory wiped and then again trying to regain his memories and humanity. Wincott, who has had the lead in some action movies like Martial Law II, is wasted in the role of Eric, and Battaglia's performance as Luc isn't much of a performance. If you've ever put down Van Damme's acting abilities, watch this movie and you'll quickly realize how good we've had it with Van Damme.


The Timecop franchise, which was inspired by a comic book created by Mark Verheiden and Mike Richardson and began with a 1994 film starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, wasn't killed off by the cancellation of the short-lived Timecop television series in 1997. Six years down the line, Universal released a direct-to-video sequel that again featured a hero not played by Van Damme.

In Timecop: The Berlin Decision, we're introduced to Time Enforcement Commission agent Ryan Chang, played by Jason Scott Lee. Chang works further in the future than his movie and TV predecessors did, so far that he's actually from a year that still is the future as of this writing, but won't be for much longer. While Van Damme's TEC agent had been working out of 2004 and the agents on the TV show were working out of 2007, Chang is working for the organization in 2025. But, of course, his job takes him through several earlier years over the course of the film.

The biggest difference at TEC in '25 is that Timecops no longer travel through time by riding in rocket pods that somehow launch them through time but don't travel with them, something that never made sense to me anyway. Now they just sit in a seat and get blasted with science stuff to get sent through time. Another difference is the fact that the Society for Historical Authenticity has been formed to watch over TEC and make sure Timecops don't alter history while stopping time traveling criminals. Problem is, there are members - led by Thomas Ian Griffith as Brandon Miller - who want to do the exact opposite of what SHA was formed to do.

Miller and his followers believe that people with access to time travel have a "moral obligation to right the wrongs of the past". Because of them, Chang has a major mess to deal with in this film, beginning as soon as the opening action sequence, where he has to make the difficult decision mentioned in the title - in 1940 Berlin, he has to stop Miller from assassinating Hitler to preserve the integrity of their timeline. From there we get sequences set in 1895, 1881, 1929, 2002, and in the middle of a prison riot. Chang gets the chance to demonstrate some impressive fighting skills along the way.

For fans of gross special effects, we also get a cool moment where we see a TEC agent who has bumped into his younger self in the past and the two bodies have merged into a grotesque lump of pain.

With a short running time that barely scrapes 80 minutes, Timecop: The Berlin Decision moves along at a very fast pace and is packed with enough action to make it entertaining to watch, even if it is of a lesser quality than the Timecop property really deserves. Lee is a capable hero and it's always easy to dislike Griffith whenever he plays a villain.

This sequel came to us from director Stephen Boyum, who started out as a stuntman (he worked on such films as The Blues Brothers, Just Before Dawn, Predator, Action Jackson, Twins, Blind Fury, I Come in Peace, Days of Thunder, Maniac Cop 2, The Last Boy Scout, Groundhog Day, True Romance, and even the Van Damme film Sudden Death), and screenwriter Gary Scott Thompson. Boyum and Thompson both had DTV Universal sequels to their names before this one; Boyum directed a sequel to Slap Shot, and Thompson worked on a couple K-9 movies. Thompson got writing credits on a couple bigger Universal releases as well: he co-wrote the original The Fast and the Furious and got story credit on 2 Fast 2 Furious.

Thompson also wrote that "Rutger Hauer vs. the devil" movie Split Second.

There hasn't been another Timecop movie made since The Berlin Decision, but this wasn't the end of the trend of sequels to Van Damme movies not having Van Damme in them. In 2016 we got Hard Target 2, starring Scott Adkins.

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