Lionheart

We first learned about the French Foreign Legion through Snoopy, or “Beau Snoopy,” in Peanuts, complete with a kepi head covering.

Who says the writers of this site aren’t cultured?

In Lionheart, Jean Claude Van Damme stars in the first of two 90s action movies where he plays a member of the French Foreign Legion. Still, when weighed (no fat shaming!) against the times Steven Seagal has played an ex-special forces op…you can’t accuse the “Muscles from Brussels” of being typecast to the same extent.

Here, he plays Lyon Gaulthier, who sounds like his very own couture line, a Legionnaire who goes AWOL from the regiment, and is then a stowaway on a ship, all to get closer to his sister in the U.S.

With no papers, and no skills other than being apple to separate a goon from his teeth, JCVD’s Lyon turns to…what else? The underground pit fighting circuit. After all, it’s such a vibrant, moneymaking racket, especially in the years preceding the UFC, and on both coasts to boot.

Who else is occupying the furtive underground world of unsanctioned fisticuffs? Why, it’s some Don King-esque fixer named Joshua.

He’s Lyon’s liaison into the illicit world of hardscrabble men gathering under bridges, in dismal urban locales (and occasionally in squash courts!) to battle for surprisingly lucrative purses.

Lionheart is entirely built upon a foundation of ample Van Damme charisma. And he’s got some in spades, displaying a range far surpassing that of his contemporaries (which is a bit of a backhanded compliment akin to being the most classically handsome wrestler in Turkey). The scenes with his young niece are especially poignant.

Lionheart though, brings the ass-kicking bona fides.

***1/4 (out of 5)

And don’t forget to pick up a copy of our action movie book, Mine’s Bigger Than Yours! The 100 Wackiest Action Movies. If you’re a fan of Cannon films, Steven Seagal, bizarre Philippines-lensed chop socky, you’ll love this tome.

A Force of One

Dojo karate instructor by day, ass-kicking underground pit fighting champ by night. That’s the narrative of about 1,000 80s action films, but at A Force of One has the benefit of starring Chuck Norris, the stoic, mop-topped meme king and martial arts phenom. 

The plot?

Members of the San Diego PD vice squad ranks are thinning more than Steve Seagal’s hair, thanks to being plucked off one by one by mysterious assailants TRAINED IN THE DEADLIEST OF MARTIAL ARTS. 

Completely baffled by the coroner’s reports, which suggest the cops had their necks twisted, the thin blue line types led by a befuddled Clu Gulager, decide they would benefit from instruction in karate. 

Chuck Norris, fresh from going toe-to-toe in a manly tilt with Bruce Lee in Way of the Dragon, plays Matt Logan, a humble San Diego karate instructor called in as an ad hoc consultant to the city’s PD. 

This prompts the question, what good is a lousy beginner yellow belt for newly trained cops, if the killers are all experts? (unless, of course, Chuck Norris is the best instructor in the whole world. Hey, wouldn’t put it past him). 

But at its heart, A Force of One is all about the fighting. And that means, we get to see Chuck in action in the always inexplicably popular underground pit fighting round robin tournaments. He’s got a chief antagonist (champion kickboxer Bill Wallace as Sparks) who to circle all the squares, is in cahoots with some crooked coppers. 

Of note to genre fans: Superfly’s Ron O’Neal and The Psychic/Scanners’ Jennifer O’Neill play police vice squad members. That alone should be the price of admission (that’s just an expression: watch this one on Prime or YouTube). And there’s some seriously inept undercover work, as well as some of the most cheaply dressed ring entourage members you’ll ever see, attired in what look like those summer camp “staff” shirts.

A perfect easy-breezy Saturday afternoon watch, however, there’s probably not enough posterior kicking for the dyed-in-the-wool action head. 

[Editors’ note: a reminder, our book Mine’s Bigger Than Yours! The 100 Wackiest Action Movies, is out. It’s a romp through the world of fisticuffs, one-liners, jailbreaks, pit fighting, mercenaries, and really big explosions—all the stuff that makes action movies great].