When he receives news that his brother is critically ill in hospital after a gang attack, French Foreign Legionnaire Lyon deserts his base in North Africa after his superiors refuse him leave. Smuggling himself into New York city, Lyon finds himself with no money, no way to contact his sister-in-law and with no transport to get to L.A. Fortunately, Lyon finds good use for his combat skills in an underground fighting circuit to earn the money needed to help him get to L.A. and to help his brother’s family, but with two of the Foreign Legion’s security force hot on his tail, Lyon will have to fight more than just organised bare-knuckled brawls if he’s to save his family.
Directed by Sheldon Lettich, the writer responsible for Jean-Claude Van Damme martial arts cult favourite Bloodsport, A.W.O.L., also known as LIONHEART, focuses on one man’s quest to be with his family in their time of need no matter what stands in his way. Fortunately for the character of Lyon, a brilliant leading performance from Jean-Claude Van Damme, he has help in the form of Joshua (Harrison Page) who runs amateur underground fights. Joshua’s own fights may be small time but his connections to the rich Cynthia (Deborah Rennard), who runs her own underground fight circuit, prove fruitful with a larger financial reward for both Lyon and Joshua, who acts as Lyon’s manager. Though Cynthia is helping the duo out, Lyon doesn’t entirely trust her, particularly when she’s trying to seduce him with her high leg cut one piece. Knowing very few people in America and with the Legion’s security officers searching for him, Lyon has to take all the help he can get.
Unlike Bloodsport, which was predominantly fight scenes, A.W.O.L. is more of a drama cum martial arts hybrid, concentrating more on the relationships between the characters and their goals with the fight scenes as a way of moving the plot forward and to showcase JCVD’s talents. The dramatic angle may not be the most riveting with its simple, straightforward style, cheesy dialoge and stereotypical characters but the fight scenes more than make up for it, even if, suprisingly, there’s no trademark JCVD splits routine present. Lots of high kicks, spinning kicks, punches and even groin shots will please action fans, with the film not shy about showing a bit of blood at times to give the fighters a realistic edge and to show that these men aren’t invincible. The first fight scene is one of my favourites and really gets the adrenaline pumping, with Legionnaire Lyon making his bid for freedom from the North African base.
The supporting performances in the movie are quite strong too with Deborah Rennard relishing her role as saucy temptress Cynthia who treats men like her playthings and has mastered the art of manipulation in her lifetime. A woman who knows what she wants, she’ll do anything if it means big money and knows just how to sell a fight, even coining the nickname Lionheart for her new champion Lyon. Harrison Page almost steals the show from JCVD with his cheeky but lovable rogue Joshua, who’s out to make a quick buck and get a free lunch. Deep down though, Joshua is a man who’s very loyal to his newly acquired friend and promises to get him where he needs to be.
101 Films have brought A.W.O.L. to Blu-Ray and DVD as part of their The Cult Movie Collection. The Blu-Ray transfer is decent with clear 2.0 stereo audio however there’s no extras in this vanilla release.
With plenty of JCVD fight scenes to entertain, an emotional storyline, a splash of humour and a likable buddy relationship between Lyon and Joshua, A.W.O.L. certainly has its appeal even if it’s not one of Jean-Claude’s strongest movies. Its story of a man with a big heart who’s only wish is to help his family regardless of the cost is very admirable and makes for an ideal feel-good flick.