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Movie Review

'Soldier' Takes No Prisoners

October 23, 1998|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"Soldier," a potent comic-book-style action-adventure fantasy, envisions a not-too-distant intergalactic future when warriors will be selected at birth by the government and trained to become human fighting machines. Over the years. Kurt Russell's Todd has become the best of these warriors, a rugged fighter with a scar on the right side of his face and his name, blood type and a chevron tattooed on his left cheek.

His folksy captain (Gary Busey) respects him and his fellow warriors, but along comes Jason Isaacs' Colonel Mekum, one of those lethal idiots who have mysteriously been rising to positions of power from the beginning of time. The colonel announces that Todd and his ilk have been rendered obsolete by a younger breed of warrior that has been "enhanced" via DNA and who knows what else. Busey's Church proposes a contest between Todd and one of the new "models," Jason Scott Lee's Caine 607, who winds up losing the sight in his right eye.

Undeterred, the colonel orders Todd and the other veterans scooped up in an intergalactic Dumpster, deposited on a garbage disposal planet. Only Todd survives being crushed to death amid a load of metal debris.

Near the dumping site is a small colony of people stranded since their plane crashed some years before. Once accepting that they weren't going to be rescued, these individuals set about building a community based on peace and harmony, fashioning a village created from what they could scavenge from the dumps. They've been able to grow enough vegetables to feed themselves, although their shanty-town Garden of Eden is menaced from time to time by rather overly symbolic and highly toxic green snakes.

But can a man trained from birth to be a killing machine fit intohuman society, especially one as civilized as this one? What's more, you know very well we haven't seen the last of the awful colonel or Caine 607.

In its look, scope and special effects, "Soldier" is suitably imaginative and spectacular if often artificial-looking. Russell has no more than five words to say during the film's first hour and not much after that, but he has the presence, depth of character and expressiveness, along with the physicality, to carry "Soldier."

Directed with vigor and finesse by Paul Anderson, "Soldier" was written by "Blade Runner" and "Unforgiven's" greatly gifted David Webb Peoples. "Soldier" isn't remotely as complex as either of those two landmark films, but it is a decent job of work on the part of Peoples. "Soldier" is the kind of picture described as being aimed at young urban males but may have an unexpected resonance for older viewers, who know only too well that obsolescence is something that nowadays extends to human beings and not just to machines.

It's somehow comforting to be sent home by a sleek, violent, well-oiled action-adventure with the notion that experience can still count for more than mere youth.

* MPAA rating: R, for strong violence and brief language. Times guidelines: The violence is standard for the genre.

'Soldier'

Kurt Russell: Todd

Jason Scott Lee: Caine 607

Jason Isaacs: Colonel Mekum

Gary Busey: Captain Church

A Warner Bros. presentation in association with Morgan Creek of a Jerry Weintraub Production in association with Impact Pictures. Director Paul Anderson. Producer Weintraub. Executive producer James G. Robinson. Screenplay by David Webb Peoples. Cinematographer David Tattersall. Editor Martin Hunter. Costumes Erica Edell Phillips. Music Joel McNeely. Visual effects supervisor Ed Jones. Production designer David. L. Snyder. Art director Tom Valentine. Set decorator Kate Sullivan. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes.

* In general release throughout Southern California.

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