Legionnaire (1998)
Studio Home Entertainment (Sterling)
Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurettes, Photo Gallery, Theatrical Trailer, and more

Let’s get this straight from the start, ’Legionnaire’ is not your typical Jean-Claude Van Damme action flick featuring endless mano a mano fights and more high kicks than a line of Can Can dancers. What you get instead is a great desert adventure in the finest tradition of ’Beau Geste.’

Van Damme stars as Alain Lefevre, a boxer in 1920s Marseilles paid by the local mob boss to throw his next fight. Discovering that his past love is now trapped by the mobster, Lefevre decides to pull a double-cross and escape with Katrina to America. Things go horribly wrong and he barely survives by seeking refuge in a French Foreign Legion recruiting office where he promptly enlists. Sent to French Morocco, he encounters the obligatory tough-as-nails Drill Sergeant and falls in with a group consisting of an Italian romantic, a Black American seeking refuge from racism, and a disgraced ex-British Army officer. On an arduous march across the desert to resupply an isolated fort, the legionnaires are ambushed by a horde of heavily armed horsemen. The survivors straggle into the fort just ahead of their pursuers and what ensues is an epic siege and fight to the last man.

’Legionnaire’ is presented in a non-anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen format. The video is very sharp and the colors faithfully reflect the stark desert environment. There are a few compression artifacts visible, mostly in the form of dot crawl and slight pixelation, but on the whole the picture is quite good.

The audio is an average sounding DD 2.0 mix. Dialogue is somewhat muted and tends to be overcome by the sound effects. There is very little deep bass to back up the extensive battle scenes and the surrounds come across sounding a bit harsh.

The wealth of extras provided on this DVD is pleasantly surprising. Included are a running commentary by screenwriter Sheldon Letich, cast and crews bios, trivia game, photo gallery, notes on French Foreign Legion weapons, and the entire screenplay on DVD-ROM. Best of all are three short featurettes. The first is a behind-the-scenes look at the film, the second is a good introduction to the Foreign Legion hosted by historian Douglas Porch, and the third takes a very brief look at the Legion in action during Desert Storm. When a straight to video release gets this kind of loving attention it makes you shake your head at the shoddy treatment many better films receive on DVD.

Featuring wonderful desert vistas, a strong supporting cast, and a surprisingly understated performance by Van Damme (die-hard fans may actually be disappointed), ’Legionnaire’ is a first-rate adventure. The extras are as plentiful as they are varied and provide the sort of background information that greatly enhances the appreciation of the feature film.