Set in Marseilles in 1925, Alain Lefevre (Jean-Claude Van Damme) is a boxer who, at the urging of his manager and coercion of the mob, reluctantly agrees to take a dive in his next fight. When he changes his mind mid-fight and defeats his opponent, he must join the French Foreign Legion to escape the mob. There, he meets and befriends three other men who were also forced into the Legion to escape their pasts.
This movie begins like any other typical Van Damme movie: fight scene, escape scene, gratuitous and needless shot of Van Damme’s ass scene, Van Damme mourning an injured or dead friend/relative scene, training montage, it’s all there. Unfortunately, from that point it takes a nose dive, as we meet his three companions, Luther (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Mackintosh (Nicholas Farrell) and Guido (Daniel Caltagirone). The performances were adequate, but empty as there was nothing the actors could have done about the formulaic and clichéd way these characters were formed. Luther is an American, an angry black man who calls everyone ‘white boy’ and even, at one point, says the words, “…everyone’s got to have a dream”. Guido is the Italian who is doing this solely for the love of a woman, and Mackintosh is a Brit who is proper and polite and carries his own bar of soap around. He’s also a latent homosexual, again another cliché that’s hammered home in the brothel scene when he’s asked if he likes women, to which he replies, “Of course not. I’m British.” Mind you, those were the ugliest women I’ve ever seen in a brothel scene, so it may very well have been a smokescreen. There’s also the hard-ass sergeant, the cowardly manager, the heartless mob boss, and so on, and so on, and so on. Point is, not one character in the movie is original, and all the performances suffer because of it.
The actual movie moves along at a snails pace, dragging along slower than the tired, marching feet of the Legionnaires themselves. They march, and train. They march, they fight. They march again, they fight again. They march to a different location, and fight again. All the while, nothing is really accomplished, plot or character wise. We find out why Luther and Mackintosh joined the Legion, they show us that walking for miles in the desert with no water is hard, and that’s about it. It shouldn’t take 40 minutes to find out what could have been told in two. The love story between Alain and Katrina (Ana Sofrenovic) seems completely tacked on and unnecessary, and is told in flashbacks during duller parts of the film. My biggest gripe with the love story sub-plot is that Alain is trying to win her back after leaving her at the altar, but it doesn’t go on to explain why he did it. He just did. She does decide to get back together with him and run away to America, but again, no explanation as to why, after a man left her at the altar for no good reason, she would take him back. Lastly, if you are planning on seeing this movie, please ensure that only small, soft objects are within arms reach when you hit the 93 minute mark, as the only part of this movie that isn’t clichéd and formulaic is the ending. It is so incredibly stupid and completely insults your intelligence, with absolutely no regard for the safety and well-being of your television set.
It isn’t all bad though: the costumes and set pieces are believable enough, and so long as you haven’t seen Gladiator, or any of the Lord of the Rings movies, or the trailer for the upcoming movie Troy, the epic war scenes were believable and well done for a five year old movie. The unfortunate thing is in those five years, epics have been done, and done masterfully. That, we can’t blame on this movie.
You will spend the majority of this movie trying to figure out if it’s a typical Van Damme action flick or an epic war drama. Truth is, it doesn’t matter because it fails miserably on both accounts. Unless you’re a monstrously huge fan of both Jean-Claude Van Damme and badly done epics about the French Legion, I would steer clear of this movie. The same experience can be had by watching Universal Soldier or any passable Van Damme movie with no volume while lightly, but repeatedly hitting yourself with a large stick. Believe me, after watching this, I wish I had done that instead.
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