Family First – Lionheart (1990)

When it comes to movies featuring Jean-Claude Van Damme, a plot does not have to be overly complicated for one to enjoy them and such is the case here in Lionheart released in 1990 just before the peak of his success on the big screen. It features exactly what he does best and that is beating up on the bad guys and making them pay for whatever it is they have done, in this particular case, thinking less of him. It does get slightly more complex than that but out of the hour and forty-five-minute running time, most of the picture comprises fight scenes which viewers would not have any other way.

It all starts with Van Damme in the Foreign Legion, years before he would make his Foreign Legion film, and it is there that he receives the news that his brother has been badly hurt. So it is that after being refused leave, he takes off risking more time added to his service. Making his way to Los Angeles, he meets Joshua along the way and begins to take part in underground fight rings in order to make a little cash. Before he can make it to his brother’s side though, the man dies and so Lyon whom Van Damme plays decides to continue fighting in order to make even more money for his brother’s widow and daughter. As it goes on, Lyon finds out that the woman promoting the fights as portrayed by Deborah Rennard, is using him and finally when she bets against him, he must prove himself one last time.

The story within might be a simple one but it is a good one and it is something that every viewer can empathize with – wanting to provide for one’s family no matter what it takes. Van Damme does a good job with it, the man’s acting fairly good and his fighting even better. The action scenes are great and well-choreographed and while Van Damme wins every fight he is in, he is not made to look indestructible which can get pretty old pretty fast. Harrison Page is perfectly cast as both friend and mentor while Rennard makes for a great villain, the woman having the look and demeanour that would make most men quake in their boots. Brian Thompson was good in his small role as bodyguard to Rennard while Lisa Pelikan and Ashley Johnson would try to capture the hearts of the audience as Lyon’s family. With the action weaving in and out of the movie, it would be only a matter of time before the two worlds Lyon found himself in would come into contact, making for an even better film than when it first began.

After making Bloodsport and Kickboxer previous to this, one had to wonder just where it was that Van Damme might go as they were so popular when they came out and while some might have found this to be similar in nature, at least thematically, seeing the man branch out with a little more actual ‘acting’ was a good thing. The days of Van Damme saying little while dispatching those who stand against him were essentially over with this film and though Lionheart would offer little, if anything new with the material, it would end up being one of his best.

3.5 out of 5

Jean-Claude Van Damme, Harrison Page, Deborah Rennard, Lisa Pelikan, Ashley Johnson

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