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Featured Blu-ray Review: Lionheart

July 9th, 2018

Lionheart - Buy from Amazon: Blu-ray Combo Pack

Lionheart

Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle Lionheart wasn’t a box office hit when it came out in 1991, nor did it win over the critics. It was profitable, thanks to its $6 million production budget, but largely forgotten. Now that the MVD Rewind Collection has released a Blu-ray Combo Pack, will it be rediscovered? Or did it deserve to remain forgotten?

The Movie

First a note: I’m watching the Extended Edition, which is 110 minutes long, compared to 105 minutes for the theatrical edition. There are so many different editions of this movie for various markets. France, Germany, Australia, etc. all got different theatrical versions. None of them seemed to be 110 minutes long. You can really tell the differences, because the additional scenes are in Standard Definition.

The film begins with a drug deal gone wrong and the man trying to buy the drugs is burned alive. Wow. That’s a lot more graphic start than I was expecting. As his wife, Hélène, and daughter, Nicole, are waiting at the hospital to see if he will make it, he calls out for his brother, Lyon.

Lyon is in the Foreign Legion, at least for the next six months. He gets a letter from his sister-in-law about his brother. She’s been trying to get in touch with him for months, but his commanding officer wasn’t telling Lyon, because he considered it a distraction. When Lyon gets insubordinate, he’s placed in the isolation, but instead of going quietly, he beats up the guards, steals a jeep, escapes, and begins his journey to the States. The Foreign Legion send people to the docks to intercept Lyon’s attempt to get to America, but when that fails, they follow him to New York City and then to Los Angeles, where Hélène lives. He gets into a couple of underground fights to earn the money he needs to get there. He also meets Joshua, the man who runs the first fight he joins, and Joshua is impressed enough with Lyon’s fighting to become his manager and help him get to Los Angeles. First they have someone to meet.

That person is Cynthia, although they have to get past her bodyguard, Russel, first. Cynthia runs the biggest underground fighting ring and it is through her that Lyon has the best shot at earning the money he needs. It works and Lyon and Joshua head to Los Angeles. Unfortunately, they arrive a week too late, as Lyon’s brother passed away before he could get to him. He goes to Hélène and bumps into Nicole. (On a side note, I like their interaction, especial when Nicole asks, “Now you’re not a stranger anymore?” “I’m not a stranger when your mom says I’m not a stranger.” That’s a good answer.) Lyon overhears Hélène arguing with her landlord over the late rent payments. Hélène blames Lyon for what happened to her husband and wants nothing to do with him and won’t even accept his money for the rent.

Lyon is determined to help her, even if she doesn’t want his help. This will have to wait until after the fashion makeover. I’m not joking.

Lionheart is a movie about a man who participates in an underground illegal fighting league in order to raise money to help out his dead brother’s widow. That’s it. Unfortunately, there’s about 22 minutes of setup before we meet Cynthia and it isn’t until the halfway point that the real fighting starts. There are some good moments before the real fighting starts. Lyon’s first encounter with Hélène has a lot of dramatic heft to it and it shows that Jean-Claude Van Damme was learning to act by this point. It helps that this film has a much better supporting cast than films of this type usually have. Deborah Rennard gets to vamp it up as Cynthia, which is another highlight of the movie.

When the fights do start in earnest, they are quite exciting. The fight choreography and cinematography does feel a bit dated, but if you are like me and a fan of action movies of the era, and have grown tired of the steady cam, quick-edit style of fighting we see today, then this will be a welcome relief. There is enough variations in locations and opponents that the fights never get dull or repetitive, which can be a problem with lesser entries in this subgenre. I can’t going into the specifics, because of spoilers, but the variety of fight locations is very big selling point for the movie. That said, it is still only a merely good entry in the subgenre and if you don’t like this specific subgenre, it is certainly not good enough to change your mind.

The Extras

Extras begin with an audio commentary with the director, Sheldon Lettich, and the co-star, Harrison Page. It is only found on the extended edition. There are also a series of rather meaty featurettes, starting with The Story of Lionheart, a 47-minute long look at the origins of the film. Inside Lionheart With the Filmmakers and Cast is a 26 minute long interview featurette with various cast members. Lionheart: Behind the Fights is a 10-minute featurette and it is exactly what is sounds like, a making-of featurette focusing on the fights. There is an archival 9-minute Making-of Featurette. Up next are two interviews, the first being a 26-minute Interview with Sheldon Lettich and the other is an Interview with Harrison Page and runs 13 minutes long. There’s a 5-minute Behind the Scenes of the Audio Commentary featurette. Finally, there’s a photo gallery and TV spots. The total running time is well over two hours.

The Verdict

Lionheart is a second-rate Bloodsport with a more engaging plot at the expense of the number of fights. That said, if all you are looking for is some cool fights, then this movie has them. The Blu-ray Combo Pack has way more extras than expected and if you are fans of Jean-Claude Van Damme, it is worth picking up.

Filed under: Video Review, Ashley Johnson, Sheldon Lettich, Harrison Page, Lisa Pelikan, Deborah Rennard, Brian Thompson, Jean-Claude Van Damme
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