Wednesday, August 1, 2012


I realize the first Expendables movie didn’t live up to the hype in some people’s eyes but I’m so confident that part 2 is going to be epic (thanks to the addition of Chuck Norris & Van Damme) that I’ve decided to do a little countdown leading up to its August 17th release. I’m still a little annoyed that Carl Weathers, Don “The Dragon" Wilson, Billy Blanks and Cynthia Rothrock have yet to be added to the ensemble cast but there’s always part 3...

Yes it’s true all classic Van Damme movies followed the same basic formula. His movies were made up of key words like; kick boxing tournament, honor, painfully average looking female co-stars, martial arts, homoeroticism among straight men, basic plots that don’t require much of a script (soldier goes AWOL to fight in a martial arts tournament, soldier goes AWOL to save his family, soldier goes AWOL to escape the army, etc), and a key scene where he either does the splits or some kind of a slow-motion roundhouse kick or a montage where he walks through the city in deep thought with some knock-off Frank Stallone-sounding song playing in the background. With Lionheart we have the story of a soldier ("Leon") in the foreign legion that goes AWOL after he discovers his younger brother has been killed in a drug deal gone bad, leaving behind a wife & little daughter with no money. Now it’s up to Leon to take care of his sister-in-law & niece by fighting in an underground circuit with the help of his token black sidekick/manager that he picks up along the way. I know this may sound like blasphemy, but outside of Bloodsport (probably Van Damme’s most iconic movie), Lionheart is probably the best of his "guy fights in an underground fighting tournament" movie in his entire body of work. It’s better than Kickboxer (I know that’s gonna ruffle some feathers with some of you), The Quest and even No Retreat No Surrender. Lionheart is a film that predates recent stuff like Warrior (which was WAY better than it shoulda been), Never Back Down, Gladiator (the Russell Crowe one and the Cuba Gooding Jr. one), Undisputed (the boxing movie with Wesley Snipes & Ving Rhames) and even Mortal Kombat (the video game AND the movie). I know stuff like Enter The Dragon and The Karate Kid predate Lionheart but Van Damme's films, specifically Lionheart, are what really elevated the genre of fighting movies to the next level.

Throughout the film Leon breezes through most of the competition (all while escaping the clutches of the two agents who are sent to take him in to custody for fleeing the foreign legion), but as the fights go on he starts to develop a serious rib injury that he keeps a secret. Then in what’s supposed to be his last fight he has to face his toughest opponent in the form a "Attila" - a monstrous, sideburn sporting, killing machine who's never lost. Lionheart has so many great scenes I don’t even know where to begin. There's the fight scene in the pool between Leon and the Tarzan guy, the lighting in the scene where Leon fights the big Scottish guy and the last 15-20 minutes of Lionheart is just one big emotional roller coaster that'll have you cheering and on the verge of tears at the same time. Lionheart is also a look at the class struggle between the rich people who bet on the fights and the poor/homeless/down & out exploited fighters who do what they have to do in order to survive. My one MAJOR complaint with Lionheart is how underused the villain from Cobra (Brian Thompson) was. You mean to tell me you have the axe murdering, cult leader who went toe-to-toe with Stallone in Cobra in your movie and you cast him as a limo driver? C'mon now. Just look at his menacing face. He's like the Willem Dafoe of C-list/straight to video villains and he gets no play in the movie.
But because this movie is so epic, and it’s the one & only flaw, I'm willing to let it go. Lionheart represents a time in the early 90's when you were bored, thought nothing was on TV, then you turn to the USA network and *BAM* Lionheart was on (what the Warriors was to TNT back in the late 90’s is what Lionheart was to USA). And it’s so good it’s not like you need to start watching it from the beginning. Lionheart is just as enjoyable if you watch it from the beginning or turn it on right in the middle when Van Damme slow motion superkicks the Hacksaw Jim Duggan-looking guy through the glass window. Lionheart represents a time when you'd go to the "action/adventure section" of the video (a section Van Damme dominated for quite some time) and you just knew by looking at that VHS cover that this movie was gonna be great. Unfortunately the USA network is crowded with a bunch of shows that no one watches yet somehow they remain on TV (seriously, do any of you know ANYONE who watches Burn Notice or Psyche?) so you're gonna have to either rent this at your local video store or purchase it on Amazon.

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