What’s that smell? Why, it’s Soldier, an insipid science fiction action yarn that makes you long for the realism of Pigs in Space.
Right now, under our very noses, if you believe the timeline the film gives us, an elite unit of men trained exlusively to be killing machines are being raised by a top secret military unit. Apparently stolen from their cradles, these children are raised, in a Clockwork Orangian fashion, to only understand discipline and violence.
Apparently, wars of the future are fought on a very small scale. There are only 20 of these soldiers (who survive their training, anyway), and they’re involved in what seems to be each and every war or conflict in space. (Oh, yes, by the way, in the next thirty years, humankind has colonized the known galaxy). The best of these 20 men is known only as Todd (Kurt Russell), as you can read from the tattoo on his cheek.
In any case, this elite group of soldiers has never lost a single man (at least until the main plot of the movie gets underway, that is). You see, the soldiers are being replaced. There’s a new breed of tougher, faster, stronger soldiers (without hair, even) which are being introduced. And, since there can only be 20 soldiers in the entire galaxy, Todd’s unit is being retired…forcably.
For some reason, even though this replacement project must have been in the works for most of the time he’s been in command, the head of Todd’s soldier unit, Captain Church (Gary Busey), knows nothing about the replacements, and doesn’t believe in their superiority. What better way to test your men than to have them fight to the death? Well, you can guess the outcome… Todd’s unit has been replaced, and Todd (mistakenly thought to be dead) is simply thrown down the nearest trash chute. Hey, do you have a better way to dispose of a corpse?
Well, conveniently, Todd’s coma lasts for the entire duration of an interstellar flight to the local trash planet, where he’s luckily dumped on the top of a giant trash heap (rather than underneath it). Strangely, this planet has incredibly strong windstorms that apparently ignore these huge trash piles, which remain standing despite the 300+ mph winds.
Anyway, as luck would have it, there’s a lost colony of humans thriving amid the trash and the winds. This colony adopts Todd as a pet. But can a man who’s been bred for forty years to kill and to obey ever learn to cope in normal society? Or is there a conflict just around the corner which will utilize all of Todd’s lethal training? You be the judge.
Granted, Kurt Russell is supposed to be playing a virtually emotionless soldier, bred only to kill and obey, but his performance is so flat, glassy-eyed and featureless, that he’s actually out-performed by a garden snake! Just because you’re an emotionless killing machine, doesn’t mean you have to be uninteresting (just take a look at the Terminator series). But one look into the blank stare of Russell’s soldier makes you yearn for the thespian talents of Arnold Schwarzenegger, or, heck, even Steven Seagal.
As the film blunders from one cliched subplot to another, it’s actually stunning to note the absolute lack of creativity on the screen. The closest thing the film ever gets to originality is in creating elaborate death sequences. And even those are foreshadowed so heavily, you could probably name them before the deaths ever happen.
The only way in which Soldier is conceivably enjoyable is in a Mystery Science Theater 3000 sort of way, in which, revelling in the absolute horridness of the mess on the screen, you create your own entertainment in the way of joking insults. But, even then, you’d have to be pretty desperate to pin your entertainment hopes on Soldier.