In 2009, director John Hyams (with the help of his father, cinematographer/helmer Peter) injected life into a long-dead franchise with Universal Soldier: Regeneration, a finely crafted straight-to-DVD actioner starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. Needless to say, the duo’s second collaboration, Dragon Eyes, was hotly anticipated -- too bad the flick is basically a dud. The production features some nice bone-crushing moves, but all too often, the speed-ramping style adds unnecessary flair to what is otherwise an uninspired fight scene. That said, Peter Weller relishes his villainous role, and there are enough “what the heck?” moments to give Dragon Eyes a passing grade (the scene with two quirky goons fighting a ninja being the weirdest moment of the film).
One irk about the picture is that Van Damme hardly appears in it. Instead, the aging action star plays a mentor to Ryan Hong (Cung Le), a down-and-out prisoner. Upon being released from jail, Ryan makes trouble with two rival gangs (à la Yojimbo) and pits them against each other, while corrupt police chief Mr. V (Weller) keeps an eye on the new visitor to his community. To be sure, there are some stellar fights (aided by the slow-down/speed-up ramping), but the film doesn’t amp up the action throughout the picture in a satisfying way. Van Damme is sorely underused, and star Cung Le might have the moves, but he isn’t aided by Hyams, who shoots everything in a mustard-yellow haze, typical of low-budget action films, which makes Dragon Eyes feel even cheaper than it should. Action enthusiasts will check this out, but don’t expect the movie to be on anyone’s underrated list anytime soon. leave a comment --Jeremy Wheeler