LIONHEART aka Leon , Wrong Bet, A.W.O.L., Full Contact (1990)
Directed by Sheldon Lettich
This is one of the earlier Van Damme titles, and one of my favourites.
Actually I like his early work better than the later ones,
because here he is still working to establish himself as the action character we all know . I think he kept repeating himself too much in his later work, and I don`t even mean the DTV era movies of his.
The Van Damme I still love is the early Van Damme. That were the movies. Later the big productions, while not totally bad, didn`t have the rawness no more, something I think made him popular. The same is true for Stallone, beyond a certain era, it just wasn`t the same anymore.
Van Damme plays Leon Gaultier, a french foreign legion soldier. He took the blame for a crime of his little brother, and instead of jail, he chose to do his time in the foreign legion.
Sadly, his brother didn`t learn much from that it seems, cuz he gets brutally murdered, as he tries to buy cocaine. But the deal is a set up and the cocaine is nothing but sugar.When he gets upset about the fake cocaine, the dealer sets him on fire. Arriving at the hospital well-cooked, he screams for his brother. The wife of Leon`s little brother writes a letter to Leon in northern africa, who asks for a temporary leave from the legion, but it gets denied by his superior.
When he insults him, he is about to be put into the „sweatbox“, a little torture device that is sure to make anybody comply, sooner or later. He fights off his guards and escapes through the desert. He gets on a ship that leaves for the states, on which he works like a slave.When the ship doesn`t arrive in L.A. as promised, he has a fall-out with the big guy who commands the ship`s workers, jumping into the water and getting ashore. He needs to get to New York, but how? He has no money whatsoever. Soon, he witnesses a streetfight in the harbour. He fights a big guy and knocks him out cold. Joshua, a former streetfighter and now turned promoter is impressed with Leon, and introduces him to Cynthia“The Lady“, a beautiful woman, who has high society contacts and also promotes streetfights for very rich customers. She likes Leon from the very beginning, but more in a sexual way. A fight is arranged and of course, impresses them as well. He gets enough money to go to L.A., but Cynthia wants him to keep fighting. When he arrives at the L.A. hospital, his brother has passed already. He visits the widow of his brother, but she blames him for the death of her husband, curses him and won`t accept the money he wanted to give her. He gets drunk, and Joshua arranges a hotel room for him, paid by Cynthia.
She wants him to fight for her, but even more , she wants to fuck him. It is really funny, how fast she goes over the egde, when he refuses her advances.
Fights are arranged, and Leon becomes the next big thing in the illegal fighting scene. Leon and Joshua play a trick on his brother`s widow by telling her about a supposed life insurance, that will be paid in parts, which is desperately needed, as she struggles to pay the rent and support her little daughter, which now gets the bike she wanted so bad. Unbeknown to Leon, the foreign legion sent two soldiers to arrest him.They eventually track him down, but he escapes them. He then visits her again, and when she sees his wounds from his last fight and Joshua explains , that this is all for her, she warms up to him and the relationship turns normal again.
One more fight is all he needs to take them away, into a new life.
But Cynthia is still pissed about Leon`s sexual refusal, so she arranges a fight, she thinks he won`t walk away from alive, or at least, badly hurt.
She gets the most brutal fighter they have to offer. To potential customers, she makes sure Leon looks like a sure bet, so that she can get the most out of this fight, financially.
Leon injured himself in the fight against the french legion guys, but plays it down, so the big fight won`t be compromised.
Cynthia also arranges for the Legionnaires to get Leon, after the big fight is finished.
Joshua finds out about Leon`s injury, and as the time comes to bet on either Leon or Attila, he puts his money on Attila. WRONG BET!!!! Leon punches Attila to mush.
The two Legionnaires are so impressed with it, that they let him go.
HAPPY END. Well, as I said, it`s one of my top 5 Van Damme movies. The cast is great, the story way more engaging than your average martial arts-themed movie and it features well choreographed fights, tailor-made for Van Damme.
It is a perfect entertainment package, with sad, funny and dramatic moments that left me feeling good, leaving the cinema. I went to see it again the very next day. For Van Damme movies, I always went the very first day it opened, excited like it was x-mas.
The film exists in different cuts. The US version misses a few dialogue scenes, the european version some of the burning brother in the beginning of the film and a few other , small cuts.
Nothing spectacular, but as a fan it can drive you nuts, in search for the ultimate version.
At least the fights are uncut in all versions. I would like to see a workprint of that, but that never showed up. Too bad, I wish there would be more workprints available. As a fan, it is so damn interesting to see.
Jean-Claude Van Damme …
Harrison Page …
Deborah Rennard …
Lisa Pelikan …
Ashley Johnson …
Brian Thompson …
Voyo Goric …
Michel Qissi …
George McDaniel …
Eric Karson …
Ash Adams …
William T. Amos …
Roz Bosley …
Dennis Rucker …
Irish Legionnaire (as Dennis Wayne Rucker)
Billy Blanks …