Plot: What’s it about?
Alain (Jean-Claude Van Damme) is hired by the mafia to be in a boxing match against a man he can easily defeat. Sounds like a good deal, huh? Well, it’s not. You see, Alain can beat the man, but the mafia says he needs to lose, or else he’s in deep shinola. So the time in the fight comes for Alain to drop the fight, but instead he knocks the fool to the canvas, and makes a run for the border. But when the mafia’s looking for you, it’s hard to stay on the run, and Alain decides he needs a whole new life. A second chance, so to speak. So Alain joins the French Foreign Legion, where they don’t ask questions about his past, and he can have a new life, even if it is only as a soldier. While he trains and lives with his fellow soldiers, Alain begins to make some true friendships, and actually starts to like his new life.
Most of the people I know wouldn’t even give this movie a chance, since it was a direct to video release. Now, I had my doubts and all, but I decided to check this out, and I am happy I did. When I think of direct to video, the first thing that pops into my mind is low budget. Legionnaire had an ample budget of $35 million, and you can see where the money went. The movie is epic in scale, showing some fantastic scenery, costumes, and sets. The desert scenes look amazing, and really give the locations an isolated feel, like these soldiers are on their own, only other soldiers to depend on and trust. That theme is important when the battles begin, and it’s rare that a location would have that much impact on the tone of the film. The costumes are excellent, very detailed and pretty damn authentic. The interior sets are also well done, this movie had some great production values! Add to all that some tremendous camera work, and you’ve got a visually stunning film. This looks every bit a Hollywood blockbuster, don’t let the direct to video label scare you.
Now, Jean-Claude Van Damme (Timecop, Bloodsport) is the star of this movie, but this is not your usual Van Damme film, by any means. That terrible French accent of his? Sounds normal here, surrounded by other French speakers. If you expect the normal Van Damme martial arts fighting, explosions from laser beams, and huge special effects work, you’ll be surprised by this movie. Now, it may be a good or bad surprise, depending on how you like this type of movie. If you only watch Van Damme because of his high level fight scenes, with their regimented choreography, you might not like this movie. The closest thing you’ll get to those fight are some well done boxing matches. If you enjoy classic war movies, with their slow building tension and exploration of the characters, you’ll love this movie, I promise you that. This is almost a tribute to classic war films, and I enjoyed it from opening credits to the final fade. Just don’t expect the all out action you usually get from Van Damme. Instead, for the first time, expect a well made film.
Video: How does it look?
Legionnaire’s lush visuals are presented in a 2.35:1 non anamorphic widescreen transfer, and it looks great! The colors are mostly neutral tones, such as the sandy golden browns, but when brighter colors appear, they look very nice. Black levels are correct, and provide excellent detail level, even in the darkest shadows.
Audio: How does it sound?
The movie is mostly dialogue driven, so the 2.0 track is sufficient. Dialogue sounds clear and audible throughout, even during the battle scenes. Speaking of the battle scenes, your speakers will wake up during these segments, with bullets and sand flying everywhere!
Supplements: What are the extras?
You get the trailer, as well as the teaser trailer, and that makes me feel good, because I love trailers! Sterling also included two commentary tracks, one by the film’s writer and the other by the author of a book about the French Foreign Legion. I listened to the entire track by the film’s writer, and it was a decent listen. Nothing earth shattering is revealed, but he does give some interesting details on how the film strayed from his first treatment of the script. The second track, I tried to listen to, but it bored me to death. So, I listened to about 15 minutes, then I had to give up. You get a short behind the scenes featurette, which runs about 7 1/2 minutes, and is mostly interviews with the cast and crew. Finally, a plethora of footage and information about the French Foreign Legion is included, divided into segments on different topics. Very cool stuff, and it actually enhances the movie’s appeal!