I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Nowhere To Run

tn_nowheretorunFrom the director of THE HITCHER, the writer of SHOWGIRLS and the stars of BLOODSPORT, DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN and IGBY GOES DOWN comes this mysterious drifter vs. greedy developers action drama. Co-story credit goes to the guy who directed RETURN OF THE JEDI.

Somehow I never got around to this Van Damme vehicle before, but it kept coming up in IMDb searches: first when I saw THE HITCHER and looked up director Robert Harmon, then when Geoffreyjar emailed me about Joe Eszterhas. It’s a little light on action compared to some Van Damme pictures, but the story (generic as it is) is executed well enough to make up for it.

mp_nowheretorunVan Damme starts out a prisoner, not with the French Foreign Legion this time, but on a crowded prison bus being transported across a desert highway. Suddenly a Trans-Am cuts the bus off, causing it to roll, and the car’s driver forces the bus’s guards to free all the prisoners. Turns out this is Van Damme’s character Sam’s partner-in-crime, who thinks he’s the one who should’ve done the time and I guess is evening things out by freeing him. (And releasing two dozen thieves, rapists and killers into the general public – might have to do some evening up for that later.)

Wounded, the partner asks for Sam’s forgiveness as they drive away, and he receives it. “Oh, I’m glad,” he says. “I didn’t want that hanging over me for the rest of my life.” Then he dies two seconds later. Good one, Eszterhas.

The partner left Sam a tape recorder (with touching recorded message), some money and a suit, but not a fake mustache, so he can’t exactly start looking for a job and an apartment. Instead he finds some secluded woods to camp in. There’s a house on the land so he spies on the owner – gets a good view of Roseanna Arquette naked – and borrows their salt. Rosanna has two kids, Kieran Culkin and a girl named Tiffany Taubman (BABY HUEY’S GREAT EASTER ADVENTURE). The Culkin is convinced it’s E.T. who’s been moving the salt around, until he finds Sam’s camping spot (the cops can’t find him but a little kid can). Then the Culkin hides Van Damme in his closet, dresses him up as a girl and gets him drunk but he dies and then comes back to life and then flies back to his home planet. (Most of that doesn’t happen in the movie, it’s just implied.)

Since I’ve seen alot of this type of movie I assumed this was Sam’s family and he’s camping there so he can keep tabs on them, protect them without revealing himself to them – like Darkman, Spawn, Absolute Power, etc. So it seemed like a great joke when Sam spies on Rosanna kissing the wimpy town sheriff, then in the next scene Sam is in his tent reading Top Heavy magazine. It’s like okay, you’ve moved on? Well so have I. But it turns out they’re not his family, they’re not even his dead partner’s family (another thing you gotta expect since there’s a whole backstory about the dad being dead). Nope, total strangers, so Rosanna is pretty confused when Sam appears out of nowhere to rescue her from the people trying to rough her up so she’ll sell them her land.

When she asks what he does he says he’s a lawyer. “Where’d you learn to fight like that?”
“Law school.”

When he starts giving her advice about what the bank can and can’t do during a foreclosure I thought holy shit, is he seriously supposed to be a lawyer? But I don’t think so. It never comes up again. Too bad, because it could be a good gimmick, like Ryback being a chef in UNDER SIEGE. Van Damme kicks a guy, she says I thought you said you were a lawyer? and he says I also lawyer.

I have learned via email sources that Eszterhas hates critics and thinks they’re jealous of him. So it might blow his mind if he self-Googles and reads this because I actually think some of the writing in this is good. I like how he establishes that one of the villains was a corrupt cop without saying it in so many words. The sheriff is introduced to a private security consultant (Ted Levine) and asks where he was trained.

“Cleveland Police Department.”
“Why did you leave?”

Instead of answering the guy changes the subject to do a card trick.

I mean, there’s some goofy stuff too. Sam is accidentally seen naked by both the mom and the little girl, and they have a discussion about the size of his penis. What is this, a Vincent Gallo movie?

This is one of those action movies that’s clearly based on westerns, but not trying to be cute about it. No cowboy hats or saloons to tell you it’s a modern western. But think about it: outlaw fugitive drifts into small town, finds out widowed land owner is being intimidated to sell her land, helps out, clashes with sheriff who’s not evil but too scared to stand up to the bullies. Sam ends up staying in her barn where he finds not a horse but an old motorcycle that he buys, fixes up and leaves town on. By now the authorities know who he is and track him to the hills where they come on horses and chase him around.

Harmon is good at shooting vehicular chases, so this is a good one. A little shaky, but not in the self-conscious way of modern action. They have cameras following and attached to motorcycles that are hauling ass through bumpy trails, under branches. He gets to the top of a mountain and rides across the ridge, for real. (well, a stuntman does). Really impressive helicopter shots.

I think Van Damme is best in roles like this, the stoic guys without money, working for peanuts or living on the streets. I want to call them his Blue Workshirt movies in honor of the blue workshirt he wears in LIONHEART, but in this one he only wears a shirt like that when he’s a prisoner.

In this one by the way they mention Quebec to explain his accent. It’s not clear if he’s actually from there, but Rosanna claims he is in a lie to the sheriff.

The final fight is really good, lots of good moves and gags. He tackles the guy through an attic window, rolls across the roof and falls. There’s a great shot that’s inside the house and suddenly a shotgun blasts through the wall and through the hole you can see them wrestling over the gun outside. They saved the best stuff for the end.

I don’t think anybody considers this one of the best Van Damme movies, but I think it’s solid. It’s in one of the upper tiers of his movies. The story reminds me a little bit of the less goofy elements of FIRE DOWN BELOW, which is a compliment. Rosanna Arquette elevates the material by giving a better dramatic performance than most female leads in a movie like this, and at the same time being willing to do nudity. Kieran Culkin is good – it’s not like you need a kid to be a major character in an action movie, but if he is he might as well be able to act. And he gets a funny HOME ALONE move where he uses a horse as a weapon. And Van Damme’s acting is as good as it gets other than in J.C.V.D.

To sum up, there’s no reason to run from NOWHERE TO RUN!

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Thursday, September 3rd, 2009 at 11:13 pm and is filed under Action, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

31 Responses to “Nowhere To Run”

  1. There’s [i]NOWHERE TO RUN[/i] but to the nearest video store to check this blockbuster out!

  2. “Van Damme kicks a guy, she says I thought you said you were a lawyer? and he says I also lawyer.”

    Huh?? Maybe its just too late me.

  3. odol19 – I think Vern is using “lawyer” as a verb in that one

  4. It’s a reference to Undersiege.
    “You’re not a cook.” (Seagal) Yeah, well… I also cook”.

  5. Lawyered! Thanks Vermeer. Awesome Vern

  6. Shh!! Vern, not so loud or Joe Eszterhas will start posting here and then we’ll never be ride of him.

  7. It would be pretty sweet if Joe Eszterhas was our resident troll. Newcomers would be like, “Holy shit, did Joe Eszterhas just tell me to die in a fire?” And we’d be like, “Yeah, he does that. Just ignore him. Anyway, about the Peter Weller/Robert Hayes vehicle Fifty Fifty…”

  8. It would be pretty sweet if Joe Eszterhas was our resident troll. Newcomers would be like, “Holy shit, did the writer of Jade just tell me to die in a fire?” And we’d be like, “Yeah, he does that. Just ignore him. Anyway, about the Peter Weller/Robert Hayes vehicle Fifty Fifty…”

  9. Wow, now I’m trolling myself.

  10. Ahhh. Thanks for clearing that up guys. I see that I am not up on my Seagal knowledge.

  11. “Au revoir fucker.”

    I loved this movie for some reason. Now I gotta watch it again…

  12. I really dig Van Damme films. I mean I’m not an expert in Van Dammatism like Vern is in Seagalogy – probably because they generally lack a clear auteristic theme (unless you count Van Damme showing his ass in every film – Streetfighter notwithstanding). But I find his tendency to put… pauses in… odd …. places in his sentences… quite… funny. And not in the Jeff Goldblum “look at me – I’m acting” way. Check out TimeCop (awesome film BTW – “sounds like… safe sex… to me”.

  13. He does show his ass in this one, twice I think, but doesn’t do the splits. I liked when he was doing the splits in every movie for a while.

  14. I was hoping to uncover a whole mullet vs. mundane hair dynamic, but can think of only Hard Tagret and Timecop to cover the mullet (but man, what mullets; greased pomade lightning versus feathered wind tunnel awesomeness).

    However, how about the round house kick? I haven’t been keeping up on his DTV releases, but it used to be that the guy always threw in a round house kick for every heavy.

  15. Van Damme’s ass? Twice? Color me sold.

  16. I remember watching this on the television a couple of years ago. Love the scene where a dude walks in on JCVD taking a shower, both stare at each other in the most awkward way possible, then the guy slowly walks out. Hilarious scene (if I’m remembering correctly). Oh, and one of the worst one-liners ever: JCVD beats up someone with a bat repeatedly and says, “1…2…3 strikes, YOU’RE OUT!”

  17. Van Damme did a few I enjoyed. BLOODSPORT is a 80s ridiculously cheesy actioneer classic. TIMECOP and SUDDEN DEATH were nicely produced/shot (by Peter Hyams) big budget Hollywood efforts. HARD TARGET of course rocks, and LIONHEART is decent too.

    Never saw NOWHERE TO RUN, but Vern sold me.

    Again. I’m sure Vern could convince me to sell myself to slavery. He’s that good, the John Constantine* of Internet film critics.

    *=Not that lame CONSTANTINE movie, the comic book one. How he went from a Scouser trenchcoat to Keanu Reeves going RESERVOIR DOGS out for trick or treating…only Hollywood I guess.

  18. This reminds me Vern I was gonna email you this but might as well post it here for now, and maybe bug you in an email about it later heh.

    Would you be up for doing a list of your, say, top 10 favourite DTV titles? Or something along those lines? After finishing Seagalogy and reading through more of your DTV reviews I’m really wanting to start watching more of them. I’ve done a few Seagal’s and Undipusted 2 but it’d be cool to have some kind of list of suggestions of your favourite DTV films as some kind of starting point and recommendations.

  19. GoodBadGroovy – I’m down with that!

    I guess URBAN JUSTICE might make that top 10?

  20. I believe DTD2 Texas Blood Money is probably up there too – pretty sure he digs that one.

  21. Thanks for the review Vern, I know I saw this movie ages ago, but couldn’t remember it, but as you mentioned scenes it started coming back, especially the Culkin kid finding and hiding JCVD. Can’t remember how I felt about the movie, but I’m going to chuck it on my rental list and hopefully get to it soon (it’s a long list). Who doesn’t have a soft spot for JCVD? I know I’ve certainly got a soft spot for “Hard Target” and “Cyborg”, and I remember being pretty entertained by “Universal Solider” when I saw it at the movies. But if this has got his best acting apart from JCVD, then it sounds like it’s worth checking out.

  22. SDAL – Well, “his best acting” is overstating it. I mean that this is his highest level of acting other than JCVD. But now that you mention it I have to take that back because he does a pretty good performance in UNTIL DEATH, the one where he’s a heroin addict.

    GOODBADGROOVY – That sounds like fun, I’ll try to do that.

  23. Van Damme actually is pretty good in In Hell too, not bad for a DTV. Dude is a lil underrated…but just a lil.

  24. Thanks for another great moment of nostalgia! I’ll have to watch this again soon.

  25. I guess we don’t watch JCVD films for the acting anyway, do we? We just want to be entertained, and I know I always crack a big grin everytime he pulls some kind of overacted grimace of pain or some such, though specific examples are alluding me. As long as it doesn’t take away from the film, or pull you out of it, we can forgive him he’s not Deniro or whoever we hold up as a paragon of good acting.
    That got me thinking about Dolph Lundgren in “Diamond Dogs”. I found that a really interesting performance, and pretty interesting film overall. Kind of going for a more naturalistic performance, certainly different to anything I’d seen him in before, and I’m really looking forward to seeing him reunited with Sylvester in “The Expendables”.

  26. Lundgren does way too many movies where he plays his ROCKY IV stoic cyborg, which if you ask me he’s not at his best.

    Because as I COME IN PEACE and SHOWDOWN IN LITTLE TOKYO showed, the guy when allowed to try to act human has a particular physical charismatic charm to him.

  27. I liked the scene where Rosanna Arquette was naked

  28. Vern, I remember when this came out, it was supposed to be Van Damme’s “serious” movie because he’d play a convict and have a character arc and have less action. I even remember some action in a “making of” spot that didn’t end up in the movie, so they had more but toned it down.

    An interesting JCVD effort, probably one of the better produced. Unmemorable action-wise but probably rewatchable. Been revisiting JCVD since I got Bloodsport/Timecop on Blu Ray. Really hate Timecop. Always annoyed me that with all the potential for cool future/history action, they really only went back to now. One Civil War tease, a Depression era fight, but then they stick with now. It’s even worse than I remember though because the exposition is so stupid and the action very unmemorable. He does do one split though. Was that the last movie he did the split in?

  29. As I understand it this is one of those dealies where the script changed about 100 times and Eszterhas has said he hates the finished film, so I’m afraid he probably still hates you and thinks you’re jealous of him.

  30. I love it when Joss “DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITYYYY!” Ackland is holding his speech to thwe townsfolk and the way he is lit by the cinematographer it looks like he´s evil incarnated.!

  31. Yep I agree, this one is solid, and holds up as one of the better Van Damme’s. If there were one JCVD theme that could be highlighted based on this and LIONHEART aka AWOL aka WRONG BET aka MAKE UP YOUR BLOODY MIND, it’s that of Van Damme stepping into a surrogate father role for single mum families. It could have degenerated into bad taste in LIONHEART if he ended up boning his brothers widow, so good move he didn’t go there, but I am so fucking glad he was not related to Rosanna Arquette through a dead sibling, because what a MILF!

    It seems, from LIONHEART in 1990 and onward, there was a steady increase in the quality of JCVD’s productions – Death Warrant (yet to be seen by me), Double Impact (debatable), Universal Soldier, Nowhere To Run, Hard Target (pinnacle), Timecop, Street Fighter (it had a good heart), Sudden Die Hard, The Quest.

    Then they go awry for a bit in the late 90’s with the occasional weirdly enjoyable flourish like Double Team or Replicant.

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