Lionheart (1990)

Lionheart follows the basic plot of all Van Damme films. Our hero loses a family member in some horrible way, he must go AWOL or leave behind some responsibility and then must fight — even though he doesn’t want to — before a big battle that redeems everything. My wife — having suffered through the makings of JCVD week where I’ve watched double-digit Van Damme films over several weeks of prep — remarked, “These are all the same movie. Everyone wants him to fight. He doesn’t want to fight. We want to see him fight. He still doesn’t want to fight. Then he fights and kicks everyone’s ass. He should just fight.” She gets it.

You have to love a movie that starts with the main character’s brother screwing up a cocaine deal and getting set ablaze. Then, we meet French Foreign Legionnaire Lyon Gaultier (Van Damme, but really, who else could that be?), who has gone AWOL when he learns that they’ve been keeping letters from home from him.

For some reason, instead of just going to Los Angeles, Lyon starts in New York City, where he becomes a street fighter working with a man named Joshua (Harrison Page, who was Sledge Hammer’s boss on that TV show).

Soon, they meet “The Lady.” Her real name is Cynthia (Deborah Rennard, Sylvia Lovegren from TV’s Dallas) and she’s the person running fistfights inside parking garages for the one percent rich. At this point, I started laughing as loudly as possible, because this movie has grown beyond ridiculous. That just means that I knew I had picked the right movie for a Saturday afternoon.

As Lyon fights his way to Los Angeles, he learns that his brother is dead and his wife won’t accept any help. She blames him for deserting the family and her husband turning to drugs. That just means that Joshua has to act as a life insurance agent and give her the money Lyon owns from fighting in the no holds barred fight circuit. This ends up upsetting Cynthia for some reason. Also, the French Foreign Legion catches up to our hero and breaks one of his ribs.

Our hero must finally fight a dude named Attila, who kills all his opponents. Cynthia also meets with the French Foreign Legion and sells out our hero. Things get sad, when Joshua says that he bet against Lyon in the hopes that he could make some money for his family. But no worries — Van Damme kicks ass, gets court-martialed but still ends up staying in Los Angeles.

This movie is all fights. And it also has Tae Bo® expert Billy Blanks battling JCVD. Also, for those of you who love pro wrestlers in movies — I’m speaking directly to my friend Paul Andolina here — Tony Halme, who was once Ludvig Borga and a member of Finnish Parliment, makes an appearance.

Much like a 1970’s grindhouse movies, it has plenty of titles: Full Contact, A.W.O.L Absent Without Leave, Wrong Bet and Leon.

It’s also the first appearance of Van Damme’s naked booty on film. In an interview with Asian Movie Pulse, director Sheldon Lettich said, While we were filming the scene in Lionheart where he takes a shower in Cynthia’s apartment, he (Van Damme) asked me if he might casually “drop his towel” and show off his butt for a brief moment. My reply was “Sure, if you’re willing, why not? We can always use a different take later if we decide it’s not a good idea.” So we did one take where he casually lets the towel drop away, and then we later decided to go ahead and put that shot in the movie. Well, that became a very memorable moment for the ladies in the audience, and for the gay guys as well. Showing off his butt (clothed or unclothed) almost became a signature trademark of his after that.”

And now you know the rest of the story.

You can watch Lionheart for free on Tubi.

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