`Solo' A Tight Action Movie That Delivers

------------------------------------------------------------------ Movie review XXX "Solo," with Mario Van Peebles, William Sadler, Barry Corbin. Directed by Norberto Barba, from a script by David Corley. Aurora, Everett 9, Gateway, Grand Cinemas Alderwood, Issaquah 9, Kirkland Parkplace, Lewis & Clark, Mountlake 9, Newmark, Valley drive-in. "PG-13" - Parental guidance advised because of violence, language. ------------------------------------------------------------------

Here's a surprise tucked into the languishing days of summer movies. Arriving with hardly any attention is a satisfying, even fun, action picture about a futuristic soldier named Solo.

Sometime-director Mario Van Peebles ("New Jack City," "Posse") stays in front of the camera as the title character. He's a U.S. military expert, a robot covered with skin and flesh. He's 10 times stronger than a man, resistant to small arms fire, with great hearing and super visual powers, and he can slowly learn from his actions and experience emotions.

On a covert operation in Latin America, Solo learns a bit too much - gee, he doesn't want to kill bystanders. That doesn't fly with gung-ho Colonel Madden (William Sadler), who seemslike a pop version of Ed Harris' maniacal soldier in "Under Fire." Madden believes killing is too important for anyone but humans to perform.

Despite the objections of Solo's non-nerdy creator (Adrien Brody), General Haynes (Barry Corbin) decides Solo should go back for reprogramming. Solo's not having any of that; he's back to the jungle where he becomes a saint for a besieged village. However, it's a short honeymoon; Colonel Madden is looking to obliterate his former colleague.

It takes about two minutes to realize this is a knockoff placing a Terminator type into a samurai Western. "Solo" makes no attempt to be truly creative or sophisticated. David Corley's script, based on Robert Mason's novel, "Weapon," is typical action fodder.

Director Norberto Barba delivers solid - yet never spectacular - action, a few nifty effects and a lot less blood than the norm these days. His stereotypical jungle village has a bit more integrity with better-than-cardboard-characters. He creates a tight little movie that delivers the goods. How many of Hollywood's recent bloated affairs failed to do even that?

With heavy doses of "Terminator," "Robocop" and Data's character from "Star Trek," Solo has the same trials in learning about human frailty. He even picks up a surrogate son (Abraham J. Verduzco) and a woman (Seidy Lopez) smitten by his presence.

The movie turns into a jungle Spaghetti Western as Solo teaches the peasants how to fend for themselves and make really destructive weapons. One kind of wishes the movie could dig deeper into the subplot, but that would get in the way of blowing things up.

It's amazing that all cyborg/robots in these movies, wired with billions of dollars in technology, aren't programmed with definitions of simple terms like "What is a joke?" The keen thing with "Solo" is that once he figures out what a joke is, he uses it quite well.

With his bulging physique and monotone voice, Van Peebles illustrates his developing presence as leading-man material. Hitless since his directorial debut with "New Jack City," Van Peebles has found a possible low-rent franchise.

Shot near Puerto Vallarta (the same Mexican locale as Schwarzenegger's "Predator"), "Solo" has the right amount of rugged scenery and Indian lore, a hip score (by Christopher Franke) and clever sequences to make its 93 minutes whiz by.