Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Only now does it occur to me... LEGIONNAIRE

Only now does it occur to me... that when Jean-Claude Van Damme makes a $35 million prestige picture and it ends up going straight-to-video... there's a reason for that.

Written by JCVD himself in collaboration with Sheldon Lettich (LIONHEART, DOUBLE IMPACT) and Rebecca Morrison (SCORCHER) and directed by Peter MacDonald (RAMBO III, THE NEVER ENDING STORY III), LEGIONNAIRE sees Van Damme playing "Alain Lefevre," a 1920s French boxer with a level of moral righteousness that is usually only seen in movies where the star is also the executive producer. Did I mention that this film is produced by (among others) Jean-Claude Van Damme and Edward R. Pressman (BADLANDS, WALL STREET, AMERICAN PSYCHO)?

Anyway, the film begins promisingly enough, with punching and grunting

and the bursting of flashbulbs, and you can tell from the styling that they think they're making RAGING BULL. When JCVD is told to throw the fight, he refuses and winds up on the run in a lavishly produced chase scene on the streets of Marseille,

complete with a weepy damsel waiting at a fog-machine-drenched train platform.

However, JCVD never makes his train, and, while on the lam from French gangsters and sorrowfully hiding on a cart of discarded vegetables,

he spies a poster for the French Foreign Legion,

which luckily has a late-nite drive-thru recruitment station.

Next thing you know, JCVD's wandering the desert with a rifle, and the movie has transformed into a kind of tedious '90s variant of GUNGA DIN or Von Sternberg's MOROCCO. And it's here that the movie begins to really drag.

It's trying very hard for poignancy the entire time, too, which makes it all the more painful, even if the filmmaking is technically more competent than his Cannon work.

You can tell it is a Serious Picture because of JCVD's patented pathos-face.

Anyway, there's lots of men and dust and guns and horses
and men with guns on dusty horses

and some Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje

and I can't decide if it's more or less homoerotic than LAWRENCE OF ARABIA

I mean, maybe it's technically more homoerotic,

in practice, if not in spirit.

In comparison, JCVD's THE QUEST (which he directed and co-wrote) was also an earnest attempt at Oscar bait, but it brought a certain joie de vivre (Joie-Claude Van Vivre?) to the proceedings. It, too, was a period piece with tear-jerkin' pretensions, but it was at least centered around a martial arts tournament, and sort of felt like BLOODSPORT mixed with a '40s swashbuckler (and maybe a Dickens novel?)

In LEGIONNAIRE, JCVD still has the amazing newsie cap from THE QUEST, though it seems to have shrunk a bit.

Alas, his clown makeup from THE QUEST does not make a reappearance.

In any event, perhaps all you really need to know is that there are no splits in LEGIONNAIRE, at least not on-screen.


Mike Bradley said...

Ha! Glad to see you're still making time to bask in some Van Dammage! Apologies for not coming around to comment much lately, but rest assured I still read and enjoy all of these, so as always, thanks for the smiles and for taking the time to mine these gems!

Sean Gill said...


Good to see you, and hope you're well––and you know I always like to get in some Van Dammage for the summer!

J.D. Lafrance said...

You're a brave soul for enduring these lesser Van Damme movies so that we don't have to. Alto, now I'm kinda curious to check it out. Alto, no splits... that's a bit of deal breaker if you ask me. heh.

Sean Gill said...

Heh, I do enjoy trolling the depths of the man's catalog. (Though I'd probably skip this one and revisit one from the Cannon era.)