‘Lionheart’ or ‘Wrong Bet’ or ‘A.W.O.L.: Absent Without Leave’
January 11, 1991 (USA Release)
August 1, 1990 (French Release)
Sheldon Lettich although slightly more renowned as a screenwriter, Mr. Lettich has also gone on to direct Double Impact, The Last Patrol, and The Order; two of which also featured Jean-Claude Van Damme in a starring role.
Who you’ll recognize:
Jean-Claude Van Damme (Bloodsport, Universal Solider, Time Cop), Deborah Rennard (Dallas: The tv series, married to Paul Haggis), Brian Thompson (The Terminator, Cobra, Three Amigos, Joe Dirt).
Who went A.W.O.L.!?
Growing up, Blood Sport and Jean-Claude Van Damme’s slow motion beating of Bolo Yeung. The guy had a strong, silent screen presence about him that made it hard to root against the guy. Which frankly can hurt an actor’s career, when cast against type. Mr. Van Damme is clearly the ‘hero’ type in action cinema, and even with his character (in Lionheart) being some sort of fugitive; he’s even too heroic to label an ‘anti-hero’. He’s the most caring guy in the film, and also the most badass at the same time. One minute he’s winning $5,000 after kicking the hell out of some schmuck fighter; and the next he’s using the money to buy his neice a bike. Okay, he’s not that ‘night and day’, and in fact; the only reason Van Damme’s character is fighting is to provide for the only family he has.
Van Damme on the lamb
The movie starts out with JVD (Jean-Claude Van Damme), a French solider, being denied leave to see his brother; whose sustained life threating injuries due to a drug bust going south. Choosing his family over his loyalty to his service; he decides to ditch the army and find a way to Los Angeles to see his brother. Unfortunaetly his brother dies before he makes it there, and JVD is saddled with guilt and regret over the way his brother lived. He also decides to visit his brother’s wife and daughter, but doesn’t recieve a warm welcome. The movie up to this point is about 20-25 minutes in; with JVD meeting a fast talking bookie looking to capitalize on JVD ability to fight. The two of them spend the film trying to earn enough money to be able to find a better way of life. While that central plot point is running, the film later reconnects (about an hour in) the sub-plot of the French army sending to soldiers to capture and return with JVD. The final third of the film plays up JVD’s character rising in the underground fighting circuit and having to face an “essential to this type of story’s plot” goliath-type opponet.
The negative aspects of the film include skecthy editing, shameless stererotypes, and the ending being screwed over by Hollywood. Until the day I die (if I care to argue it), I still say the true ending of this film is with about 5 minutes left. Hollywood on the other hand requires things be wrapped up, and manipulating the true sense of the film into a overdone wash of an ending. Yay, JVD is able to not suffer through a crappy life anymore.
The jive turkey with a cult following
I usually use this spot in the film to praise or brutalize someone’s performance or work in the film. I was a little urked by the way Harrison Page’s character was written. I’m not sure if it was intentially or not, but Sheldon Lettich and company managed to embody every time of cliche, stereotype, and imperfection of the black hustler of the 1970s. Mind you, this film came out in 1990. I’m mean they covered all bases; the guy holds a box of chicken while he eats, he has a questionable limp, and he spews loud, obnoxious jive talk. Thumbs down, Mr. Kettich. No.
Not a must. Not even for fans of the great, Jean-Claude Van Damme. There is a hilarious groin-punching scene that might be a must see, but it’s somewhere around 30 minutes in; so you’d have to manuever around the Harrison Page character to see it. Godspeed.