Film review: Nowhere to Run

Published: Saturday, Jan. 23 1993 12:00 a.m. MST

"Nowhere to Run" is pretty much what you'd expect from a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie. He's the mysterious, silent stranger who wanders into town and reluctantly finds himself helping a widow and mother of two save her farm from the evil land developers, breaking as many heads as possible along the way.

There are a few significant differences between this film and his other action pictures, however. Van Damme's character is more of an anti-hero, an escaped convict who robbed a bank in his youth (though the script takes pains to let us know he wasn't the one who shot a bank guard). And he's pretty surly and unsympathetic in the film's early scenes.

Also notable is that the widow is played by Rosanna Arquette. You know you're getting old when it seems like an anachronism to have Arquette playing a mother instead of a daughter.

As the film opens, Van Damme is being transported on a prison bus with other handcuffed convicts when a speeding car cuts the bus off and it crashes on its side. Van Damme escapes and is soon camping out in some wide-open country.

He doesn't know that it belongs to Arquette until one night when he wanders from his campsite down to her farmhouse and peeps in the window. He watches Arquette put her children to bed and then sees her undress for a bath. Then he creeps into the house and steals the salt shaker from her kitchen.

Van Damme is discovered first by Arquette's son (played by Macaulay Culkin's younger brother Kieran). He thinks the person sneaking into their house is E.T. So, the next night, when Van Damme creeps in to return the salt shaker, the boy follows him.

Later, Van Damme begins doing odd jobs for Arquette, who gives him the job as thanks when he beats up a couple of local hoods who are terrorizing her. "Poachers," she calls them but, of course, they are really thugs hired by nasty generic European villain Joss Ackland, who wants Arquette's land for a huge development project. Since she won't sell willingly, he's trying to intimidate her with such subtle efforts as vandalism, kidnapping and, if necessary, murder.

As you might suspect, most of the picture has Van Damme standing up to Ackland and his hired guns, kicking and punching and even shooting his way out of one jam after another. And, as you might also suspect, logic goes out the window.

The script, by three writers — including Joe Eszterhas of "Basic Instinct" fame — is typically obtuse, with cardboard villains, few supporting players and, wisely, little dialogue for Van Damme.

Arquette is convincing as "the girl," but this is Van Damme's movie, of course, so when someone gets ogled in the shower, it's him instead of her. And "sophisticated" children talk with their mother at the dinner table about the size of Van Damme's privates — while he's sitting there. Right.

The best aspect of "Nowhere to Run" is some inventive camera work from director Robert Harmon ("The Hitcher"). Too bad he didn't have a better script to work with.

"Nowhere to Run" is rated R for the expected violence and mayhem, a racy sex scene, nudity and profanity.