Release Date: January 11, 1991
Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Deborah
Rennard, Harrison Page, & Lisa
Genre: Action-Martial Arts
Runtime: Approximately 105 minutes
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Director: Sheldon Lettich
Producer: Ash R. Shah & Eric Karson
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Leonne stows aboard a steamer crossing the Atlantic only to arrive in New York City penniless. Since he can't even call his brother, Leonne becomes a contestant in a street fight where people are betting on the outcome.
With muscles his size, he naturally wins. Joshua, a foul-mouthed hip huckster, signs himself on as Leonne's self-appointed manager. Josh introduces Leonne to big-league brawling and Cynthia, a racketeering businesswoman who presides over illicit fights for a decidedly upscale clientele.
A one-punch knockout earns Leonne the name Lion (and later Lionheart) with a subsequent offer from Cynthia to be her new fighter. Leonne makes it clear, however, that he has only fought to pay his way to L.A. When he arrives there, he finds that his brother has died, leaving his wife and daughter with a mountain of unpaid medical bills.
Leonne's sister-in-law is mad at him for somehow being implicated in her dead husband's drug-dealing ways and will accept neither his help, nor money. However, he agrees to fight for Cynthia (she has flown to the West Coast), then arranges for Joshua to deliver the winnings to his needy sister-in-law and niece.
The fights continue and the crowds love it. An attempt is made to mix the lust for violence with heaving breasts and spurting blood. The legionnaires, meanwhile, spot Leonne, but Cynthia works a pre-extradition deal with them in which Leonne will first fight a new behemoth she has found.
The two face off, with the camera missing nary a blow. (Actually, if even one of these punches truly connected the recipient wouldn't live to tell about it).
Leonne takes a terrible first-half pounding. Then, he learns both Joshua and Cynthia have bet against him. "Wrong bet," he says, before preceding to polish off his opponent. What about the legionnaires who want to bring the Frenchman home? They have a change of heart and permit him to stay, but it is a shallow moment that hardly seems believable.
There are plenty of ridiculous situations, such as a black gang more willing to risk loss of life and limb rather than let Leonne use their telephone. However, a more important question to ponder is: what is this new leisure activity that harkens back to the gladiator days of the Roman Empire? Does the making of a film like LIONHEART paradoxically express a latent craving (one that finds an overt expression in the film) for more films like LIONHEART?
As long as things like gambling and drunkenness, violence and obscenity are presented as normal and acceptable, one can only presume that these cravings will only worsen.
There are plenty of ridiculous situations in LIONHEART. However, a more important question is: what is this new leisure activity that harkens back to the gladiator days of the Roman Empire? As long as gambling, drunkenness, violence, and obscenity are presented as normal and acceptable, one can only presume that these cravings will only worsen.