I’ve had countless bad experiences with science-fiction. The worst was when I paid 5 bucks to see Mario Van Peebles in “Solo”, a crap film that sucked worse than anything had sucked before. After other mishaps like this, I decided to avoid dumb and cheap-looking sci-fi flicks, unless they were directed by someone I could trust (like Paul Verhoeven, whose “Starship Troopers” is among the most thrilling recent movies). But that attitude almost made me miss the vampire epic “Blade”, which turned out to be the baaadest film of 1998. So when “Soldier” came out a few months later, I decided to give it a chance. Big mistake.
Kurt Russell stars as Todd, a man who has been bombarded with aggressiveness since his birth by a governmental agency that trains super soldiers. He’s got terrific strength and endurance, and he’s got tremendous bravado and discipline. The film’s promising at first. We see Russell’s evolution, as he’s stolen from any compassion or humanity by cruel, ruthless training. Russell’s actually quite good as this badass, Terminator-type killing machine. He says only 69 words through the film, so most of his performance is felt through his eyes and his body language. Unfortunately, as buffed up and intense as Russell might be, the film sucks so much ass. Before you know it, we learn that Russell’s character has grown obsolete and he’s shipped out to a wasteland planet.
That’s when the film becomes really painful to watch. For almost an hour, there’s no more action. All you get is tons of tired sci-fi clichés. The special FX and the sets look good, but nothing happens! Russell bonds with a community of dull people in ragged clothes who try to survive on this planet of trash. He lives with some dull blonde, her dull husband and their dull son, and they try to make him more human, with little success. Yet that goes on forever, and we’re bored. There’s even a montage sequence on Enyaesque music of Russell befriending these people, gardening and stuff… Come on! The film goes from an unoriginal but watchable blend of “Commando”, “Mad Max” and “Star Wars” to a sort of huge but empty new-agey dud à la “Waterworld”.
What’s weird is that “Soldier”, a so-called space western, was written by David Webb Peoples, the guy who penned Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven”. Yet the story is predictable and boring, and it packs way too much phony sentimentality. Paul Anderson’s direction is technically efficient, but he doesn’t really have style. In fact, everything in this film is criminally bland, except for Russell’s badass attitude and for the villain played by Jason Scott Lee. They have two exciting violent fights, but that’s not even near enough to save the movie. Don’t waste your time, jerking off to the Teletubbies would be more satisfying.