If there’s one movie having an identity crisis it’s this one. The movie was released in the USA as Lionheart yet seems to have a different title in every country it has been released in; next to Lionheart is has so far been released as Full Contact, A.W.O.L.: Absent Without Leave, Leon and Wrong Bet. An occasional translation for certain countries I could understand but this is ridiculous. In my country, The Netherlands, it was released as Wrong bet but the version I watched was the French one named Full Contact. Oh well, they could have just called it “Generic Early Van Damme Action Movie”, that would have covered the premise of the movie as well.
To explain Van Damme’s thick French accent he’s a member of the French Foreign Legion stationed in North Africa. He learns of his brother’s horrible death and goes A.W.O.L. when he is denied to leave and can’t go and visit his sister in law. He stowaways on a ship to New York and to make money he participates in underground fights. His talent for fighting is brought to the attention of Cynthia who organizes these kinds of fights for the rich and famous. Van Damme becomes her star attraction and it gives him the opportunity to provide for his brother’s wife and daughter. What he doesn’t know is that two men from the Legion have been assigned to bring him back.
This one of those movies I nurtured back in the day. A simplistic plot, easy to follow, yet substantial enough to masque being a mere excuse to put Van Damme in several fight scenes each with a certain gimmick. There’s a fight under a ramp, one in a circle made by cars in a parking garage, in a half empty pool etc. Stuff like this might go straight to video overseas but these movies were actually theatrical releases in the USA. That probably explains why the movie seems to have a bigger budget than most of the movies that are turned out by Van Damme and fellow 90’s action star Steven Seagal nowadays. Those films are all filmed in Eastern Europe on a shoestring budget mostly having confusing plots that make no real sense. Wrong Bet at least seems to have been shot in a city like New York among other.
Watching it now brings back good memories but also points out some problems with the movie that were lost on me back then. Apparently Van Damme also tries to target a female or gay audience, how else could you describe an unnecessary butt-shot of Van Damme or a scene in which he stands in a dressing room in some tight underwear showing off his, rather impressive, package. But that could just as well be some special effect; socks don’t cost that much. During the swimming pool fight he and his opponent, who looks like a porn star, wear some sort of giant speedo fitting real tight around the body. On the other hand there is actually no female nudity in what is an R-rated action movie. Sure Cynthia walks around in some exercise outfit once and is in a nightgown in another scene but she and Van Damme don’t even get it on. Homoerotic subtexts; something you just got to love the 80’s for.
It’s funny how the opponents are mostly all defined by an exterior aspect and have no real character depth. Van Damme is doing these fights to get his little niece a bike. About his opponents we only know that they have a gimmick, like a Scotchman in a kilt, but not their reasoning. Maybe they’re also fighting to buy their daughters a bike. I feel kind of bad for them now.
The only opponent remotely developed was Attila. A huge guy with a huge ponytail and huge sideburns who not only left previous opponents disabled but also constantly strokes a white cat. You just can’t get more evil than that.
It’s a fun flick that has nothing on its agenda other than to kick some ass. It’s a bit too long as they could’ve trimmed about 15 minutes or so but it still is a nice trip to memory lane for me. If you haven’t seen it I can just say that while it doesn’t have the shiny look and the cool editing all the new action flicks have, it has a more solid story and fierce action scenes not cut together like most of them today are.