A.W.O.L.: Absent Without Leave (1990)
Van Damme does Fight Club
Sometimes life is... is... ugly. And stupid. And mean - Lyon
Back in the early 90s I became infatuated by martial arts movies and as such ended up watching a number of Jean-Claude Van Damme movies. One of my favourites, which doesn't mean its any good, is "A.W.O.L." or "Lionheart" as it is also known, because quite simply it's Jean-Claude Van Damme in one fight scene after another. There is a storyline which fills the gaps in-between all the action but it's not really as important as the action and fight scenes which makes the movie tick. Watching "A.W.O.L." now some 20 years after its release and you can't but help find it cheesy but then the action still works and once more is what makes the movie tick.
Discovering that his brother in L.A. is fighting for his life in hospital, Lyon Gaultier (Jean-Claude Van Damme) breaks out of the Foreign Legion and makes his way to America by boat. Arriving in New York with out a dime in his pocket Lyon ends up fighting for money in illegal street fights and fight clubs where he comes to the attention of Joshua Eldridge (Harrison Page) who becomes his friend and manager. Spotting the potential Lyon has as a fighter Joshua takes him to the big money illegal fights where a woman called Cynthia (Deborah Rennard) takes a fancy to him. But all Lyon wants to do is to get to L.A. to see his brother and provide for his sister-in-law and niece even if it means more illegal fights aginst bigger and tougher fighters.
So what "A.W.O.L." is trying to be is a story about a soldier in the Foreign Legion who at first is desperate to get back to America to his injured brother and then help his sister-in-law who blames him for her husband's death. But in reality "A.W.O.L." is about the fights which Lyon gets into from escaping the foreign legion through to working in illegal fight clubs. As such whilst we know Lyon only fights to either make money to make it to L.A. or provide for his sister in law it ends up not being important and in reality a filler to link up the action scenes.
So ignoring the storyline which is both weak and obvious what we have is a lot of action most of which revolves around Lyon fighting in these fight clubs. As such there is scene after scene of Jean-Claude Van Damme kicking butt be it a powerful punch to an opponents nuts or a bloody battle which leaves him staggering. And each of these fights is usually full of martial arts action from quick punches through to flying kicks. It's all impressive stuff and the series of fights naturally builds up to one big final fight scene where he takes on a deadly opponent in the form of Attila.
But all of it is rather corny and from cheesy dialogue, poor acting and over the top sexual flirting "A.W.O.L." frequently entertaining for the wrong reasons. Now whilst Jean-Claude Van Damme as Lyon impresses when it comes to throwing punches when he is called upon to act out a dramatic scene such as those with his sister in law and her child it all ends up very cheesy. But Van Damme is not alone as every actor ends up coming across as cheesy be it Harrison Page as Lyon's fast talking friend and manager Joshua Eldridge or Deborah Rennard who plays the manipulative Cynthia aka The Lady. But to be honest the performances are typical of this sort of 90s martial arts movie.
What this all boils down to is that "A.W.O.L." is your stereotypical early 90s martial arts movie which plies you with a weak storyline and plenty of action. And whilst the movie now looks dated and is corny the action featuring Jean-Claude Van Damme still looks good and at times brutal.
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