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‘Nowhere to Run’ (R)

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
January 18, 1993

A shameless, uneventful rehash of the classic Western "Shane," "Nowhere to Run" miscasts Jean-Claude Van Damme in the old Alan Ladd role -- an outlaw outsider gradually drawn into both unexpected familial warmth and predictably violent conflict with a greedy land baron.

While it boasts better supporting actors and technical credits than other Van Damme projects, the film nonetheless founders, a victim of its own lugubrious pace and misguided efforts at turning the bulging Belgian into a romantic lead. This transformation consists of reducing Van Damme's lines to a bare minimum (while still including one minimum bare-butt sequence) and having him moon over Rosanna Arquette, who is given an entirely gratuitous nude scene early on, with Van Damme and the moviegoing audience reduced to peeping Toms.

Arquette plays Clydie, a young widow with two small photogenic children, the more notable being Mookie, portrayed by the lesser Culkin, Kieran. Clydie is feuding with a rapacious developer played by Joss Ackland, who is quickly becoming the senior bad guy of choice in Hollywood. Along comes Sam (Van Damme), who has recently escaped from a prison transport and ends up hiding out on Clydie's property. Before long, the kids have adopted Sam (Mookie's E.T. fantasy come true) and eventually Clydie does, too. As for Sam, he becomes the family's bodyguard, paying special attention to the widow Clydie's body.

Eventually, Sam does run away (nowhere in particular, of course). Riding a reconstituted Triumph -- if not an artistic one -- he manages to avoid a police posse giving chase on horse and motorcycle before a mini-crisis of conscience leads him back to the farmhouse for an encounter with surrogate bad guy Ted Levine (much more frightful as Buffalo Bill in "The Silence of the Lambs"). Things end, as do all Van Damme films, with fisticuffs and, in this case, handcuffs.

The whole film, unfortunately, feels handcuffed from start to finish. The limited action sequences are incidental to the torpid family romance, probably a fatal miscalculation of Van Damme's core audience. While immensely likable, Van Damme simply hasn't got much acting range, though he's about the only action hero not only willing, but eager, to engage in close clinches with people of the opposite sex. But Cary Grant he's not.

The main problem with Arquette is that she looks and acts more like a babysitter than a widow. The script asks very little of her, and that's what she delivers. As for Culkin, he's a chip off his brother's block, though a tad less pretty and sweet. He's nowhere near the actor Macaulay is, either.

Another major problem is the sparse script. The original story is by Joe Eszterhas and Richard Marquand, with Eszterhas, Leslie Bohem and Randy Feldman credited on the screen; there's no mention of "Shane's" A.B. Guthrie Jr., who adapted Jack Schaefer's novel, but there should be. Still, for all the teamwork typing, it's basically unfinished and unpolished. There's hardly any text, much less context, and every action and consequence is pat and obvious. Motivation? It has to be the salaries, because there's nothing in the script, which had been sitting on a shelf since Marquand's death five years ago.

Even the Mark Isham score seems perfunctory. Director Robert Harmon showed promise with his visceral 1986 debut, "The Hitcher," but he's apparently out of his element downplaying the action for the feel-good romance. If this vehicle were a car, it would be pulled over for going wayyyy too slow.

"Nowhere to Run" is rated R and contains some violence, nudity and crudity.

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