The following is the fifth entry in my continuing series of essays examining the filmography of Jean Claude Van Damme. No Legionnaires were consulted for this entry because they were too busy trying to seduce a cat that had accidentally been painted to look like a skunk.
Okay, so you had Bloodsport. Next, you had Kickboxer, which wasn’t exactly the same movie, but was kind of the same (just with 100% more rape). Before and between those you had Van Damme appearing as the bad guy against the likes of a dude from soap operas who knows taekwondo and Sho Motherfucking Kosugi, but like I said, we’re talking about his roles as THE main dude. So the other one is Cyborg (which according to IMDB was secretly edited by JCVD, a thing that in no way surprises me now), and then, after all of those, comes Lionheart.
Much of Kickboxer was pretty much movie dudes going, “Hey, how can we make this more like Bloodsport but also not Bloodsport?” I have more thoughts on Kickboxer, but you’ll have to wait to read those (spoiler: my feelings about it are complicated). On to Lionheart.
Lionheart continues this fine tradition of finding bizarre ways to get Van Damme to fight a lot of dudes and kick guys in the face, during a time when the best idea was still “put him in some kind of fighting tournament,” or essentially putting him in a less intellectual Rocky movie. But, see, Lionheart gets tricky with it.
It starts out similarly to Bloodsport, with Van Damme as a military guy who goes AWOL and evades his military bosses by escaping to a foreign land. But see, it gets all kinds of “this shit is too fucking clever for a 1990 Van Damme movie,” because guess what? The foreign country he escapes to is America!
And it sucks!
Instead of flying an airplane to Hong Kong, staying in a nice hotel room, playing karate video games against giant awesome bearded American dudes, and scaring rapey middle eastern men away from the reporter who obviously wants to “know” him, ol’ Jeany baby gets to escape to America illegally on a boat, sleep on the streets, and do a lot of nothing because he has no money.
Instead of coming to a foreign land to compete in a glorious battle that brings with it high prestige, he gets to come to a foreign land where nobody gives a shit about him and he’s forced into street fighting just to get by.
It’s like a shitty Bizarro Kumite. I think maybe the prize is that Republicans will give the winner a free pass while they kill the rest of the homeless population.
See, I’m already getting ahead of myself here. Let’s go back to the beginning…
So Jean Claude’s brother is living in America. I guess in this he and his brother are French, and Jean Claude is in the French Foreign Legion, which according to this movie is apprently where they send criminals to finish out their sentences instead of jail (although from what I’ve gathered the Legion doesn’t actually do this anymore, but did at one point in their history; of course, I don’t know the Legion all that well, except that I do know they’re some tough dudes and they occasionally enlist rapey skunks during wartime). Jean Claude used to be a drug dealer or something, and that’s why he got in trouble.
The only reason why any of this matters is because his brother (who lives with an American wife and kid in LA) gets set on fire by bad dudes (not to be confused with Bad Dudes) and needs JCVD to be at his bedside because, you know, they’re bros.
So yeah, Van Damme escapes the Legion to go to America to see his brother who is probably dying but he doesn’t have any money or anything (and he’s stuck in New York, major important detail right there) so he discovers what seem to be a lot of black dudes with some white dudes peppered in fighting “Fight Club” style under a bridge for money. He steps in, wins, earns money, and now we have Van Damme as an actual street fighter instead of a GI Joe (but still not a Street Fighter).
Like Kickboxer, he gets an older sidekick guy, who helps him on his journey. Also, like Kickboxer, the character is black and sounds pretty much like a racist cartoon (but I’ll tell you, this guy has a few more “tender” moments than the crazed Vietnam vet in Kickboxer) for most of the time.
So Jean Claude has money from winning some fights, but he needs more money. This is when the movie takes a bizarre turn, and we find JCVD moving up to the next level of underground fighting rings. This one, you see, is run by rich – mostly white – people. Late 80s-style rich white people, complete with awful shiny suits and douchey haircuts and girls with big awful hair.
When rich people aren’t making millions of dollars off of trading other people’s money, they gotta cut loose and have a good time. They gotta have some entertainment.
So apparently at night they hang out in parking garages at fancy important business buildings and watch poor people beat the shit out of each other. And the whole thing is run by an evil pretty blonde with short hair and lots of money and Shao Khan from Mortal Kombat Annihilation as her lackey.
Van Damme beats their guy and makes more money, and then finally goes to LA. So it’s like we’re moving on with the movie’s central plot. But wait!
Van Damme gets to LA and guess what? His brother is dead already, and his bro’s wife hates him. End of movie.
Except not! Jean Claude then gets back to the rich-person underground fighting circuit, which has an LA chapter (West Coast Shitty Kumite Avengers assemble) I guess? Anyway, the evil pretty blonde actually runs this one, too, and she’s trying really hard to get Jean Claude to bone her (and she’s horrible at it).
This is all we know about her, and keep in mind she’s one of only two major female characters (not counting JC’s niece): We know she is insanely rich; we know she has power and controls these fights; we know that she wants Van Damme to make whoopie with her. That’s pretty much it. We know she’s not nice, she doesn’t show much concern for other people, but otherwise? She’s hot for Jean Claude until he rebuffs her, at which point she decides she doesn’t like him anymore and he should die a horrible death being beaten to a pulp by an unimpressive, big, hairy dude with sideburns.
Meanwhile, JC is socking money away and secretly giving it to his brother’s widow without her knowing it’s coming from him and blah blah blah blah it’s pretty predicatable from this point. Then there’s a big fight (there always is!) and our resolution.
That big hairy dude with the sideburns? Yeah, that’s the big final fight, and honestly this guy doesn’t impress me because doesn’t seem to do anything I haven’t seen Chong Li do better, and we all saw how Chong Li faired against JCVD. Point being, despite the fact that the Dammster takes a seriously brutal beating (one of the worse I’ve seen), you know how it’s going to end. And then the Legion dudes catch him and then let him go because I guess they’re not total dicks (all part of the Prench Foreign Legion’s big 1990 recruitment drive, with their new slogan, “The French Foreign Legion: Because We’re Not Total Dicks”). However, I’m not sure how they plan to explain to their superior officers why they let him go. Sacre bleu!
Guys, this movie was fucking weird and dumb and bonkers and insane and awesome.
Every fight scene was pretty much something I’ve seen done (or would expect to see done) on Regular Show, but with the added bonus of KICKS TO THE FUCKING FACE. There’s a fight in a garage in LA where he and his opponent are surrounded by rich people cars (like, those fancy ones with the sloping lines and shiny grilles driven by men in top hats and monocles) with their headlights on. There’s a fight where he and his opponent are in a mostly-empty swimming pool (this one threw me off because usually fights in drained pools are, like, a punk rock thing. Then there’s a fight in a racquetball court. Or maybe it was a squash court. I honestly can’t tell the difference. Somebody tell me!
What can I take away from this movie? What will stick with me, years from now?
I have no fucking idea. But Jean Claude Van Damme sure knows how to kick dudes.