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1 review, 2 user ratings

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by Brett Gallman

"Lyon, the Professional Face-Puncher"
2 stars

Growing up in the early 90s, I had an unhealthy obsession with fighting games--the Street Fighters, the Mortal Kombats--if it featured digitized sprites pummeling the crap out of each other, I probably played it. This interest had an obvious cinematic parallel in kung fu and martial arts movies, and not the elegant Shaw Brothers type, either; I’m talking about their oily, rugged, machismo-oozing American counterparts, many of which starred Jean-Claude Van Damme. Both of these interests collided in “Lionheart,“ a maelstrom of stilted dialogue, bloated sentimentalism, and roundhouse kicks that would represent a perfect fusion of fighting games and film if its damn plot would get out of the way.

That plot is something so simple that only a crappy 90s martial arts flick could make it convoluted: when Lyon Gaultier’s (Van Damme) brother gets roasted to death during a drug deal gone wrong, he instinctively looks to aid his sister-in-law Helene (Lisa Pelikan) and her young daughter Nicole (Ashley Johnson). The only problem is that he’s all the way over in North Africa, where he’s serving as part of the French Foreign Legion. He’s forced to go AWOL and escape to the United States, which he discovers to be the land of opportunity because he’s really good at drilling guys into unconsciousness.

Since he can make money doing this, his goal is obvious: punch people in a pit-fighting ring to pay off his sister-in-law’s bills. And that finally really starts to happen about 45 minutes into “Lionheart,” but only after Lyon meets a manager (Harrison Page) and a shady but sexy fight organizer (Deborah Rennard, desperately trying to be Brigitte Nielsen). Also complicating matters is Helene’s refusal to accept his help, but he simply can’t take “no” for an answer because Nicole is just too cute (but only to him--most viewers would likely be okay with him crane-kicking little Chrissy Seaver in her Raggedy Ann head).

All of this is very maudlin and trite, and most will be reaching for their remote, where the fast-forward button acts as a shot of testosterone and allows you to get to the good parts: the series of fights that sees Van Damme pounding guys (or simply punching them in the balls) until he has enough money. The brawls are ruggedly choreographed and feature the usual slow-motion combined with Van Damme’s hilarious histrionics, but the random settings (complete with adoring crowds full of awesomely earnest extras) feel like backdrops in one of those fighting games. Presumably because this fighting is illegal (albeit well-attended), Van Damme clobbers dudes in empty swimming pools, within a ring of cars, and even a racquetball court whose pane of glass becomes one of Lyon’s victims as well. This is all so fun and absurd that you wonder why anyone would actually try to turn “Lionheart” into a serious, overwrought drama.

All told, those fights comprise about fifteen to twenty minutes of the running time for “Lionheart,” a total that you wish were doubled by the time it’s through. Because there’s not enough drama going on, the Foreign Legion sends a couple of agents over to track down Lyon, and Rennard ends up being a sleazebag, developments that take up time that should be dedicated to Van Damme battling guys.

Still, the movie is compulsively watchable due to Van Damme, who is expectedly awkward whenever he opens his mouth; however, for all of his physicality, Van Damme always had a knack for playing this soft-hearted tough guys whose vulnerability is instantly readable in his demeanor. His rapport with Page is fun and they enjoy a crocodile tear-fuelled bromance that can overcome any obstacle, including the final big boss--you’ll know that fight is imminent when the requisite power ballad (“No Mercy”) kicks in. About the only thing that’s surprising here is that Brian Thompson and his absurdly square jaw just kind of sit there and act as Rennard’s henchman instead of providing an obvious foil for Van Damme.

As corny and as melodramatic is “Lionheart” can be, it’s still a better Street Fighter movie than the actual “Street Fighter” that Van Damme starred in four years later. If you don’t believe me, just watch the “Street Fighter II: Lionheart Edition” video on Youtube--it’s like a flaming dragon punch compared to the actual “Lionheart,” which just flames out.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=23648&reviewer=429
originally posted: 03/28/12 03:58:16
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User Comments

1/05/13 MatthewThompsonDalldorf The fights are solid and the story is a bit above adverage. 4 stars
7/03/12 Sugarfoot Some good action but some slow scenes too. 3 stars
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