By the early nineties, the stock of Jean Claude Van Damme had risen to the point where he now was an acceptable draw at the box office, achieving fame after dilegently racking up release after release of low budget, martial arts pot boilers.
The release of the relatively big budgeted (for him at least) Universal Soldier had positioned him in a place where his assertion to the action hero A-list actually seemed possible, especially since the previous occupiers had plans to move in more comedic, family friendly waters with mixed result – it’s s just a shame that Van Damme ended up trying to capitalise on it with the hour and a half action movie version of white noise that Nowhere To Run turned out to be.
Aiming to give the Muscles From Brussels a chance to show a more sensitive side while he breaks a length of lumber across the head of a bad guy, this quieter, more serious direction for JCVD hit a road block that no-one thought to remove beforehand – this movie would require him to act.
After a daring rescue attempt sees him messily liberated from a prison bus, convicted “canadian” bank robber Sam Gillen goes on the run alone after his one time partner in crime catches a fatal bullet to the neck during the getaway. Utilising the go-bag his dead buddy had prepared for him and securing the money from the robbery that landed him in the pokey in the first place, Sam lays low by unknowingly camping on land owned by widowed MILF type, Clydie Anderson and her two precocious, saucer-eyed children Mookie and Bree.
Discovered by Mookie in an E.T. style scenario after Sam creeps around the Anderson homestead in a way that totally isn’t creepy at all, the convict sparks up an odd friendship with the boy and it’s a good job too as Clydie and the other local landowners are being pressured to sell to corrupt developer Franklin Hale who has since resorted to buying the local law enforcement in the form of Clydie’s sort-of boyfriend, Sheriff Poole. However, when that doesn’t work, Hale employs the sinister services of card trick obsessed henchman, Mr. Dunston who sics some thugs on the subbon Andersons.
Before you know it, Sam has suddenly become the unlikely protector of this family unit and as he slowly becomes evermore enamoured with them, every nose he breaks and every arm he snaps also brings him closer to their hearts too.
But despite the fact he’s fast becoming a surrogate husband and father to this beleaguered family, he’s still a man on the run against someone who has the local law in his pocket and sooner or later, that little fact will come out into the open.
As weird as this sounds, as banal as Nowhere To Run plays out, it’s actually kinda tough to place the blame at the door of its star, especially when one casts an eye over a crew list that contains a story cooked up by Joe (Basic Instinct) Eszterhaus and Richard (Return Of The Jedi) Marquand and direction by Robert Harmon who provided us with possibly the most pants shittingly tense thriller to emerge from the 80’s with the brutal The Hitcher. Quite how someone who gave us that stand off that saw Jennifer Jason Leigh infamously tied between two rumbling big rings could turn in something so forgettable is somewhat worrying and everything is thrown even further into doubt when you realise that the whole thing is nothing more than an unofficial rip off of the Western, Shane.
Its obvious that Nowhere To Run started life as something far more subtle than a JCVD vehicle but was retailored along the to be more of a snug fit with Van Damme’s particular set of skills while giving him a more sensitive, down to earth sort of hero to portray for a change which robs him of doing the splits or any spin kicks in favour of a more thoughtful performance. However, the unfortunate result is a film that was not only too tame for the star’s usual fan base, but still way too Van Damme-y for casual filmgoers who wasn’t about to climb the mountain of plot holes to get to the end.
There’s lots of things about Nowhere To Run that casually makes less sense than a memoir by a drunk gibbon, but surely the most blatant is the the movie thinks that it’s even remotely feasible that a single mother would accept a total stranger camping on their land – while wearing a fucking suit, I might add – let alone accepting him near her kids – and especially after a tone deaf bout of comedy that sees the young daughter mouthing off about the size of Sam’s penis at the dinner table (in context, she spotted him bathing in the lake) and yet the movie continues to present its walking red flag as some kind of reluctant saviour as he fends off doughy henchmen in a generally non-fatal way that’ll no doubt kill them later in medical bills.
Wisely, the movie crowds its thick accented star with proven acting talent in a good natured hope that it’ll rub off on him, but to be honest, you’ve got more chance of rent-a-villain Joss Ackland learning to kick above his head than Van Damme becoming a seasoned thespian overnight – but all credit to him, he gives it the old college try.
As Ackland matches his bulging eyes with Van Damme’s bulging arms, support is further flown in by Rosanna Arquette’s lonely housewife who admirably tackles her paint by numbers character arc (plus unnecessary nude scene) by gradually falling for this walking thirst trap who has just sauntered into her life. Elsewhere, Buffalo Bill himself Ted Levine shows that he has a better grasp on the flimsy material than anyone else present as he simply snatches the paycheck, has huge amounts of fun screwing with people with his ropey card tricks and then goes all in for the final brawl that sees the film finally give up all pretences of serious drama and finally become the final boss fight it was always destined to become.
Torn between being a quiet thriller with a heart and a rip roaring vehicle for some good old fashioned face punching, Nowhere To Run’s delusions of class finally implode in the final act where everyone (including physics) suddenly snap over to action movie mode and start doing amusingly illogical things. Considering he’s greedy, but not a complete psycho, why on earth would Ackland’s villain think it would be a good idea to turn up in person to see the kill order on Clydie performed; and while we’re at it, does Sam really bunny-hop a speeding motorcycle over a patrol car without the use of a ramp?
In a fast and frenzied movie like Hard Target, you’d no doubt forgive these occasional lurches into action movie weirdness, but considering the Nowhere To Run foolishly seems to hold itself to a higher standard, it ultimately alternates between boring and stupid as this tale of a convict ironically lacks conviction.