'Lionheart' features dim drama, fake fights

January 11, 1991|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

'Lionheart'

Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Directed by Sheldon Lettich.

Released by Universal.

Rated R.

* "Lionheart" is a movie so primitive it appears to have been discovered on the floor of a recently excavated cave. Can it predate the discovery of photography?It certainly predates the discovery of drama.

Jean-Claude Van Damme,the jaunty Belgian kickboxer, plays a French Foreign Legionnaire (now how long has it been since you've seen one of those in a movie?) who deserts his post in North Africa, flees to L.A. via New York and the Atlantic (no, he doesn't swim it, though the movie is so dumb I'm surprised he doesn't), and takes up the mission of financing and protecting his brother's widow and daughter.

Does he avenge his brother's grisly flaming death in the movie's first few seconds? Nah. Couldn't be bothered.

Instead the movie covers his thumper's progress through the world of bare knuckles, anything-goes fighting, if such a world exists, and the movie never convinces you it does.

The fights are never really convincing. Van Damme specializes in a highly theatrical and artificial version of martial arts built mainly on slow-motion spin kicks; but he never seems dangerous so much as outrageous.

Only in its last and most theatrical fight, against a supposed Asian strong boy who looks like Andre the Giant, does the movie stir to any life, and then only briefly. Before and after, it's completely ossified.

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