|Image courtesy of covershut.com|
Category: Badass Cinema
My buddy Ingo over at Hellford667 Movie Reviews pointed something out to me a while back in regards to Van Damme movies. He stated basically that his movies are only as good as there directors, and I couldn't agree more. Let's face it, the dude's made a ton of films, and only a handful of them are really any good. And if you look into it, you'll see that it has really more to do with the director of the picture than Van Damme himself. And that's in no way knocking Jean-Claude. I love the guy and continue to watch his films, even if they aren't what they used to be. We can always say that the guy is serious about his work and puts his all into every role. But if you have an inexperienced or incompetent director then the movie's really not going to be any good, no matter how good the script may be. But when you team Van Damme up with John Woo (Hard Target), Peter Hyams (Timecop), Albert Pyun (Cyborg), Roland Emmerich (Universal Soldier), Mabrouk El Mechri (JCVD), John Hyams (Universal Soldeir: Regeneration) and Robert Harmon with this film, you have Damme gold.
And Nowhere to Run is no exception. In my opinion, it's probably one of his best films because it's really well made and thoroughly entertaining. In all honesty, there's not really a lot of action or fights and plays out more like a drama or suspense thriller with some action thrown in here and there, but it's made so stylishly well with Robert (The Hitcher) Harmon at the helm and Jean-Claude at the top of his game that you enjoy it immensely anyway. Even in some scenes and sequences when you wouldn't expect some kind of visual flare in the camera work, he throws it in anyway and makes it look really good. The opening "escape" sequence should be your first clue as it's an impressively staged and shot sequence involving a bus full of prison inmates that get's rolled over and hijacked by one of Sam's (Van Damme) accomplices. Director Robert Harmon, who helmed the original and far superior The Hitcher with Rutger Hauer does wonders with such a simple and basic plot and gives the film a unique style not often found in these kinds of films.
Jean-Claude Van Damme plays Sam Gillen, a thief who just escaped from prison with the help of his friend Billy. Billy is killed during the rescue attempt and Sam flee's to a back country town where he ultimately befriends a struggling family. In the meantime a ruthless land developer is doing everything he can to push this family from there home as they are one of only a few holdouts left in the town preventing him from using the land for his huge construction project. He's employed the local sheriff in his ploy to remove the family from there home as well as a former police detective now turned henchman who uses fear and intimidation to get the job done. Sam, being a criminal himself has no problem standing up to these greedy land developers and might be this family's only hope in saving there home.
What I found interesting about this film is that while there isn't a lot of action, its fairly entertaining nonetheless. You watch Sam develop a friendship with this struggling family consisting of mother Clydie (Rosanna Arquette) and her two children as well as his bond with her son Mike, who see's Sam as a father figure that he's sorely missing in his life and Sam's reluctance at first and then eventual love for them. For most of the film Clydie doesn't know who or what Sam is, but likes having a man around especially with all the trouble she's been having with the land developers. She feels protected when he's around. And we as the audience never really know for most of the film either what he's capable of. We know he's been in prison, but we don't know for what exactly and for how long? He seems like a decent guy, but then there are scenes where you think maybe this is one seriously bad dude like right after he escaped and he's at a convenience store when there's a news report about a prison escape. The cashier immediately knows he might be one of them because he's not from around there with his accent and all, and when Sam thinks the cashier is on to him, you see him start to reach for his gun like he's gonna blow the guy away, but changes his mind after the guy reassures him that he doesn't know nothin'. So immediately you know he is in fact capable of murder. And when he's first introduced to the family that he eventually falls in love with, it's because he's broken into there house in the middle of the night. Though he eventually just steals a salt shaker, you never really know what his intentions really are, especially since he just saw the beautiful mother naked through a window as she undressed to take a shower. I don't think he was really just breaking in for that salt shaker, but that's just me.
As with most of his films, especially back during this time, most of the fights are slow and simple. Nothing really exciting to gawk at or anything. They play out more like a fist fight, you know where they throw one punch, and the guy falls down, gets back up and so forth and so on. Or he grabs a guy and throws him up against a wall and the guy hits his back with his elbows. I know he's never been really known to do any kind of fast hand to hand Jackie Chan style of martial arts, but it would be nice to see once in a while. Yea, the guy can kick and do a split like nobody's business, but I can't really think of a film other than Universal Soldier: Regeneration where he just went all out hand to hand combat martial arts crazy. He doesn't even show off any kicks here either, instead just playing an average Joe who just happens to be able to handle himself really well and isn't scared of anybody, not especially the baddie Mr. Dunston; the land developers right hand man.
There are a few fights and moments of excitement to liven things up though. Like that awesome opening bus crash sequence, the motorcycle chase between Sam and the cops and the final act. The casting also gives the film a better than average bravado with Rosanna Arquette (never looking hotter than she does here), Joss Ackland (Lethal Weapon 2) as the greedy land developer, Ted Levine (The Silence of the Lambs) as the right hand man with a mean streak and Kieran Culkin as the little boy that Sam forms a father/son kind of bond with.
Another interesting note is the behind the scenes credits on this thing. It's directed by Robert Harmon who did the gruesomely awesome The Hitcher (original) does an outstanding job handling the directing duties here and makes even the mundane scenes look awesome. The story is by king of smut Joe Eszterhas who wrote films like Basic Instinct and Showgirls, and Richard Marquand who directed The Return of the Jedi. And the screenplay is by Leslie Bohem who wrote The Horror Show and A Nightmare on Elm Street 5 and Randy Feldman who wrote one of my favorite action films Tango & Cash, where you can find my review of that one here. A pretty interesting and vast collection of badass talent for a Van Damme film if you ask me.
Nowhere to Run is a pretty solid action/thriller. Nothing that really makes it stand out from the crowd, other than having Jean-Claude Van Damme in his prime playing cool and mysterious and a better than expected supporting cast. Robert Harmon's direction really shines throughout and Ted Levine as a bad guy is always fun to see. Not really any martial arts in here, but it's probably just Van Damme trying to stretch his acting abilities and show us that he can do more than just an awesome split.