1998, R, 120 min. Directed by Paul Anderson. Starring Kurt Russell, Jason Scott Lee, Connie Nielsen, Michael Chiklis, Gary Busey.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Oct. 30, 1998
“Shane! Come back, Shane!” Granted, Brandon de Wilde is nowhere in sight, but that doesn't make the obvious comparisons any less obvious. Anderson and screenwriter David Webb Peoples have mercilessly stolen from George Stevens' classic Western, as well as pillaging a whole slew of other sources from George Miller's Mad Max trilogy to all manner of Kurosawa knock-offs. “So what?” I hear you cry. “Film as a medium is reflexive by its very nature -- it's inherent in the art form!” Sure, kid, but there's a fine line between art and theft, and Anderson's high-wire act on Soldier is nothing if not shifty-eyed. That quibble aside, Soldier almost makes up for its ponderous lack of originality with some terrific set design -- courtesy of Blade Runner's David L. Snyder -- and one of the best bouts of futuristic fisticuffs since Rowdy Roddy Piper whupped alleged alien ass in They Live (which was in itself shades of The Quiet Man). Russell plays Todd, a post-millennial super soldier, bred from birth for intensive combat, who finds himself on the outs when a new breed of über-goons (led by Lee's steely, one-eyed Caine 607) comes up through the ranks. Told he is obsolete and left for dead on a supposedly uninhabited garbage planet, an injured Todd makes his way through the ravaged wasteland (which looks to all effects like the set of John Cameron's futuristic Terminator-overrun Earth) until he meets up with a rag-tag band of peace-loving scavengers who make their homes amongst the towering piles of debris and the deadly, F5-level sandstorms that periodically sweep across the planet's surface. While trying to get in touch with his nonexistent feminine side, Todd and his new friends are besieged by Caine and his squadron, who just happen to pick this planet for some field testing. Mindful of his priorities (“Weakness = Death” and so on) and aching for a chance to get even with his replacement model, Todd embarks on a bloodthirsty explode-o-thon while Gary Busey (as former boss Church) simmers in the background, as always. Kudos to Peoples' imagery-heavy script, which manages to give Russell even fewer lines than Schwarzenegger's Conan, and also for his glib backgrounding here. If nothing else, you can't accuse Soldier of taking its time getting to the action. Blood, bullets, and body parts arc across the screen in wild parabolas, though the same cannot be said for the characterizations. Still, it's a suitably ornery slice of he-man gruntstuff. Those looking for an escape from the wearing bonds of logic and sensibility could do worse, though any film featuring a professional killer named “Todd” is surely more fiction than science.