When his career in action movies started to go downhill after Sudden Death Jean-Claude van Damme took his first step into a different direction with Legionnaire. A movie more concentrating on telling a story than jumping from one action scene to another. This results in a more different Van Damme movie, but certainly not a terrible one. Especially when you consider Steven Seagal wanted to act also and came out a year later with the abysmal The Patriot. The less said about that abortion the better.
Legionnaire tricks us by starting out as a typical Van Damme vehicle, when we meet him he’s a boxer leading a Playboy style life in early twenties Marseille. He gets in bed with local gangster Galgani who wants him to take a dive in the second round of his next match, but since there is some case of stinging pride he decides otherwise at the last moment and is now on the run for the wrath of the gangster. Instead of becoming a one man army he actually flees out of the country by joining the French Foreign Legion, thus becoming a “Legionnaire”.
What ensues is a story about friendship and betrayal amongst the soldiers. Aside from the occasional cantina fight Legionnaire doesn’t focus on people beating the shit out of each other. The movie focusses on 3 people around Van Damme. African American Luther, British Army Officer Mackintosh and the Italian Guido Rosetti who’s joining the legion to impress his girl at home. Legionnaire takes some cues from Full Metal Jacket by first focussing on training and then getting to battlefront where they fight Arabs yelling “Allāhu Akbar”.
Not much has changed over the last 100 years I guess.
Not only does Van Damme’s battalion have to face off against a group of Arabs, he also has to watch his back in the Legion once Galgani finds out where’s he’s currently residing and sends two of his men to joint the Legion as well to kill him. Which is quite a bit of dedication of those men when you think of it. Joining something as the Foreign Legion for years just to kill some guy for your boss.
Also showing more restraint is director Peter MacDonald who also directed Rambo III. Another movie in which Arabic men where prominently featured. In that case they were portrayed as heroic, but 13 years later these men would fly two planes into the Twin Towers. Here they are portrayed as ruthless and faceless killers who will go to great length to get these intruders out of their land. Legionnaire never explains why they’re there and what it is they’re exactly fighting for, which makes the grand finale speech of the leader of the Arabs a bit hard to put in place. Is he right? Are they intruders in his own land, or are they there to save the locals from people like him because he could be very well be an evil warlord. If Rambo III proves anything it’s that somebody who’s presented as a hero today, could very well be the villain of tomorrow.