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Lionheart Reviews

Although it's possible to enjoy isolated sequences of LIONHEART, this is not one of martial arts superstar Jean-Claude Van Damme's better kick-ass vehicles. Sleekly produced and densely plotted, it lacks the excitement of the earlier Van Damme flicks which had a less calculated aura about them. When his brother gets torched after welshing drug associates in L.A., Lyon Gaultier (Van Damme) unsuccessfully petitions his superiors in the Foreign Legion for leave to attend to family matters. In a viscerally exciting sequence, Lyon knocks several legionaires out of commission and goes AWOL international-style. Stowing away helps him land in the hostile environs of Manhattan where the illegal immigrant resorts to trading his martial arts skills in the open market. He's soon befriended by Joshua (Harrison Page), a punch-drunk ex-street-fighter who brings Lyon's talented muscle-maneuvers to the attention of Cynthia (Deborah Rennard), a foxy promoter who produces brutal bouts for the delectation of the rich and famous. Although Lyon only wants to bash opponents long enough to assist his widowed sister-in-law Helene (Lisa Pelikan) and his niece Nicole (Ashley Johnson), Cynthia is reluctant to let go of her beefy meal ticket. She also has the hots for him. Although Helene blames him for not helping his brother sooner, Lyon keeps fighting and secretly sends her money in the guise of an insurance policy she didn't know about. Tiring of Lyon's intransigent virtue, Cynthia decides to import a killer-fighter named Attila (Abdel Qissi) to polish him off; not only does she bet against Lyon, she also schemes to turn him over to the Foreign Legion after Atilla beats the hell out of him. Although Lyon has injuries from a previous fight, and although his manager loses faith in him, he summons up his courage and wins big, which is bad news for Cynthia, who's just dropped a bundle. Reunited with his family and left alone by a suddenly kind-hearted duo of Legion guards, Lyon remains in America, presumably to fight for a green card. In LIONHEART, his seventh film and fifth starring vehicle, Jean-Claude Van Damme might more profitably have exercised his muscles than his acting. In this preposterous actioner, his performance consists of glowering and refusing to smile. As an action star of undeniable charisma, his smile is one of his greatest assets; supressing it in order to appear tougher robs him of interest and robs this film of vitality. After DEATH WARRANT and LIONHEART, one also wonders why Jean-Claude seems so determined to fight in heavy blue denims and work boots. As he's become more successful, Van Damme has taken to wearing more and more clothes, which is a little like putting Dolly Parton into tent dresses. Stars must gauge their appeal and not trifle too much with the allure behind their ascendency. Covering up the goods and adopting a dour persona is not a pleasant prospect for Van Damme's following. As a martial arts technician, Jean-Claude is still at the top of his form, and the superbly executed fight sequences can't be faulted, although Van Damme seems to be having less fun executing them. But if the intention behind LIONHEART is to broaden his stardom, why would Van Damme co-author such a ridiculously fanciful script--menaced by the Foreign Legion, he becomes a kick-boxing star in parking garages frequented by the jaded, wealthy set! Most peculiarly, why is he so adamant about not sleeping with his gorgeous boss, Cynthia? This is supposed to be a sign of integrity, but this unnecessary self-abnegation seems misplaced spartanism--is it really the code of the Kicker, or is Van Damme making a comment on sexual harassment on the job? On the evidence of LIONHEART, Van Damme may be pushing for auteur status prematurely--he needs to hire screenwriters and directors who can coax him out of his new sourpuss tough-guy attitude. (Excessive violence, profanity, nudity.)