on October 23, 1998 by Christine James
   This futuristic saga about soldiers bred from birth to be unfeeling killing machines lacks the depth to fulfill its intriguing dramatic premise and is low on the panache that could have turned it into a darkly humorous meditation on space-age fascism a la "Starship Troopers."
   Kurt Russell stars as Todd, one of a small cadre of men selected at birth by the military and raised in a perpetual state of inhuman brainwashing and brutal physical training. The result is a brand of unwavering, unrelenting soldier who will stop at nothing to fulfill an order. Having fought innumerable intergalactic battles, Todd, now in his 40s, is one of the military's best soldiers, the pride of his commander, the hardened but not wholly unreasonable Captain Church (Gary Busey). But when a preposterously officious officer, Colonel Mekum (Jason Isaacs), introduces a new breed of genetically engineered soldier, he deems Church's men obsolete. As a demonstration, Mekum pits his top man, the chilling Caine 607 (Jason Scott Lee), against Todd; after an impressive battle, Todd is thought to be dead and is unceremoniously hauled off to a waste disposal spaceship. (The barely perceptible flinching of one of Todd's fellow soldiers is a nicely executed touch that demonstrates a deeply buried capacity for emotion.)
   Todd, down but not out, gets dumped on a distant planet used by Earth as a giant junkyard. There, he stumbles upon a peaceful community of lovable eccentrics who nurse him back to health. One woman in particular, Sandra ("The Devil's Advocate's" Connie Nielsen), the young, beautiful, sensitive, earth-mother type, takes Todd under her wing and awakens in him confusing feelings he has never before experienced. When his former colleagues coincidentally land on the garbage planet to practice maneuvers, with the instruction from Mekum to kill any inhabitants on sight "to avoid paperwork," Todd takes it upon himself to protect his newfound friends, contrary to his programming.
   "Soldier" effectively evokes a rooting interest from the onset by opening with a nursery full of crying babies who are carted off by cold, stiff military officers; the instinct to protect and nurture the helpless infants is immediately aroused. When these young innocents are denied any tenderness or compassion, and are instead exposed to terrors most adults couldn't bear, it raises both an emotional response as well as an intellectual curiosity as to how such an upbringing would impact an individual's basic human instincts.
   Unfortunately, this is a sorely under-explored element of the film, despite the fact that this question is at the plot's crux. Like director Paul Anderson's last sci-fi action thriller/psychological horror mish-mash, "Event Horizon," "Soldier" wants to be an intense thriller with cerebral significance, but suffers from self-seriousness and silly cliches. However, some fun one-man-army heroics save the day for both the good guys and the movie itself. Starring Kurt Russell, Jason Scott Lee, Connie Nielsen and Gary Busey. Directed by Paul Anderson. Written by David Webb Peoples. Produced by Jerry Weintraub. A Warner release. Action. Rated R for strong violence and brief language. Running time: 98 min
Tags: Starring Kurt Russell, Jason Scott Lee, Connie Nielsen, Gary Busey. Directed by Paul Anderson, Written by David Webb Peoples, Produced by Jerry Weintraub, Warner, Action

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