Sunday, August 25, 2013

Film Review: NOWHERE TO RUN (1993, Robert Harmon)

Stars:  3 of 5.
Running Time: 94 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew:  Jean-Claude Van Damme, Rosanna Arquette (AFTER HOURS, PULP FICTION), Kieran Culkin (HOME ALONE, IGBY GOES DOWN), Joss Ackland (THE APPLE, LETHAL WEAPON 2), Ted Levine (FLUBBER, THE MANGLER, Jame "Buffalo Bill" Gumb in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS), and Allan Graf (stuntman and actor from DEADWOOD, UNIVERSAL SOLDIER, ROBOCOP, POLTERGEIST).  Music by Mark Isham (POINT BREAK, SHORT CUTS).  Cinematography by David Gribble (THE QUEST, CADILLAC MAN).  Written by Joe Eszterhas (SLIVER, SHOWGIRLS, BASIC INSTINCT, FLASHDANCE), Richard Marquand (director of RETURN OF THE JEDI), Leslie Bohem (HOUSE III: THE HORROR SHOW, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 5: THE DREAM CHILD), and Randy Feldman (HELL NIGHT, TANGO & CASH).
Tag-line: "When the law can't protect the innocent, the only hero left is an outlaw."
Best one-liner:  "Where'd you learn to fight like that?"  –"Law school."

In a familiar, darkened alley:

"Hey, man, it's been awhile since we watched a Van Damme."
"Didn't you promise me that this'd be the 'Summer of Van Damme'?"
–"I don't know, maybe."
–"Alright, let me sing ya the praises of a little ditty called NOWHERE TO RUN, from Robert Harmon, the director of THE HITCHER.  Not to be confused with THE HITCHHIKER, whose makers brought us the Van Damme film, UNIVERSAL SOLDIER."
"Confusing!  And hot damn!"
 "The writing pedigree is pretty damned substantial, too, if you've bothered the read about the notable cast and crew.  Good God– the makers of SHOWGIRLS, RETURN OF THE JEDI, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 5, and TANGO & CASH teamed up to create this incredible story– the cinematic canvas upon which Jean-Claude Van Damme will paint his wonderful pictures.  Like so:"

 –"Wait, what is this all about?"
 "Well, it's kind of about strip mining and small towns and land developers.  Joe Eszterhas (SHOWGIRLS) boldly shows us that his screenwriting wheelhouse has room for strippers AND strip mining."

"Yeah, right?  With all this rustic Americana stuff and evil corporations versus unorganized labor and well-meaning drifters and impassioned speeches, it's sort of like the world's worst Steinbeck novel brought to cinematic life."
–"How does JCVD fit in?"

"He plays a really intense, embittered escaped convict.  You can tell he's intense and tortured, cause he's doing that thing with his eyebrows that conveys tremendous inner tumult.  After his spectacular escape, he stumbles through the wilderness onto the property owned by Rosanna Arquette, who's depicting a country gal who wears 80s yuppie vests

and who is trying to play single mom to a family made up of Kieran Culkin and some other child actor who never made it big, and she's having trouble at home because she's under constant attack by the thugs of the evil land developer Joss Ackland

whom you may remember as the evil apartheid-lover from LETHAL WEAPON 2 and the evil Wyld Stallyns-hater from BILL AND TED'S BOGUS JOURNEY.  He's got a right-hand, kickass henchman –like every other 80s and 90s action villain– played by Ted Levine, who's Buffalo Bill from THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS!

Through a series of extraordinary events, Van Damme befriends the entire family and saves everyone and everything worth saving."
–"Extraordinary events like what?"

"Well, for starters, when he's camping in the backyard, Kieran Culkin thinks that Van Damme is E.T."
"He later finds out that he's not, in fact, E.T. when he and his little sister stumble upon Jean-Clean Van Damme who seems to be put into a compromising situation every time he bathes throughout this film...

...which, by virtue of my phrasing, is obviously more than once.  It also begs the question of why he bathes so much– I can't remember how many showers that Stallone takes in COBRA, or Schwarzenegger in COMMANDO or Willis in DIE HARD, but I do remember Van Damme's ice baths in UNIVERSAL SOLDIER.  Anyway, I'll get to that in a minute."
–"Er... what?"
"So Van Damme slowly wins the kids over with a kind of cat-and-mouse-getting-to-know-you tango.  In the midst of it, there's a strange moment when a red ball ominously bounces down the stairs, which I feel has to be an homage to melancholy horror classic THE CHANGELING,

but for the life of me, I can't figure out why it's here.  There's also a great moment of man-kid bonding when Jean-Crude Van Damme disaffectedly flips through the pages of TOP HEAVY magazine

and in walks Kieran Culkin who, taken aback by Van Damme's unexpected reading material, inquires whether or not he actually likes boobs:

Van Damme responds with a definitive, "Sometimes."

Even with forty-seven other writers credited, you can tell a line like that is pure, uncut Eszterhas."
–"Hey, I like SLIVER."
"Okay.  Anyway, he wins over Rosanna Arquette, too, when he saves her from some land-developing thugs.  They begin a tender romance that is punctuated by scenes like one where Van Damme tenderly watches her bathe a horse.

It's kind of shot like those ubiquitous 'sexy chick washes a car' scenes, which makes the whole thing even stranger."
–"Lot of bathing in this movie?"
"Yup.  As I was saying, bathtub nudity and compromising positions continue to plague Van Damme as the film continues.  He decides to take another shower and is immediately barged in on by the local sheriff, who's incidentally sort of trying to romance Rosanna Arquette, too. 

To cover for him, she claims that JCVD's her cousin, from 'Quebec.'  I love how every Van Damme movie tries to shoehorn in a half-assed attempt to explain his accent, whether it's vague, Cajun heritage (UNIVERSAL SOLDIER, HARD TARGET), a career in the French foreign Legion (LIONHEART, LEGIONNAIRE), humble beginnings as a French street clown (THE QUEST), or an attempt to reclassify the accent as Russian (NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER; MAXIMUM RISK).  I could go on.  But my point is, you think they'd just throw their hands up and say 'Fuck it, he's Van Damme!  We don't owe the audience an explanation!'  That's what I'd do, anyway."
–"I see."
"Though maybe it's just an excuse to use 'Au revoir, fucker!' as a one-liner.  In which case, it's probably worth it."

–"Sounds like it."
"And, oh yeah, I forgot to tell you that Van Damme's usual cover story for why he's in town in that he's 'hunting.'  When a convenience store clerk asks what he's hunting for, he responds with, 'Pink Flamingos.'

Honestly, I'm not sure if that's him being facetious, a John Waters reference, or if it's code for directions to the nearest small-town gay bar.  I prefer to think it's the latter."
–"What about the action in this movie?  It is an action movie, isn't it?"
"It is, but the action's sort of disappointing.  It doesn't have the kind of jaw-dropping martial arts and spit-take inducing kickblasting you've come to expect from Mr. Van Damme."
–"Wait, wait, wait!  What about the splits?"
"No splits, sorry.  There is a scene when he has to get on his motorcycle really suddenly, though."
–"Well, that's pretty good."
"And it all ends (SPOILER ALERT) with a scene that I like to describe as 'JCVD delivers an extremely inspirational car door to the nuts.'
And that's no joke– that's an unaltered clip from the movie.  That is really the music that is playing during that scene."
–"Well, it looks like JCVD's delivered another winner."
"In a way.  I mean, it kinda feels like an extended WALKER, TEXAS RANGER episode, but with Van Damme instead of Chuck Norris. While it's not a masterpiece, I can think of million worse ways you could spend a Saturday night.  Three stars."

–Sean Gill


Anonymous said...

Apologies if this is garbled, but I had to immediately weigh in on the Van Damage so I'm using a phone to post. I think I'm in agreement here, "Nowhere to Run" stands out as a real disappointment from Van Damme's peak period. I remember even though I was a kid at the time how much they tried to push it as a real "film" where Van Damme could flex some acting muscle. Now, I actually believe he could've legitimately pulled that off in a better picture, but this one just came off as a muted, actionless, slog. I feel like everyone was misused, or perhaps the mix of people was just all wrong. I mean, for all their qualities, maybe there just isn't a whole lot of good that can come from an Eszterhas/Van Damme combo. Hollywood learned a lesson that day! Anyway, it's always nice to see Rosanna Arquette. Remember that weird period in the late 90s when Patricia Arquette became a semi-A-list actress and everyone acted like that wasn't awkward? I never fell for the younger Arquette's charms (outside of Dream Warriors, anyway). I'm just sayin', Toto didn't write a song called "Patricia!" Also, apparently bathing is to "Nowhere to Run" as sleeping is to Fulci's "Conquest." Dug the review as always, thanks for the late summer Van Damage!

Cannon said...

Okay, seriously, that video of Van Damme jumping onto his Triumph is something I’m just gonna have to watch over and over, at least seven or eight times, before I get my fix. I had since forgotten that scene, but now, looking back, I remember it was a (the) splashy visual they featured in the film’s trailer.

It’s a ludicrously stupid-awesome 20 seconds of cinema, second only to Van Damme punching a rattle snake in the head. You should post that video as well, and title it 'Van Damme Punching the Snake' or perhaps 'Punching the Snake with Van Damme' or, if you really want to, 'Snake Punching: A Guide to Bayou Safety Tips - Hosted by Van Damme'.

Francisco Gonzalez said...

YEah, Van Damme's nude scenes make me laugh, recently re-watched Universal Soldier and it was like he was showing his ass every five minutes, he was notorious for these kind of scenes, definetly gratitous.

The make a joke about his accent in Universal Soldier when the girl mentions it and he says "what accent?"

Sean Gill said...

It IS funny how they were pushing the "real film" aspects– when JCVD tried it himself in THE QUEST, though, it was still tempered with enough martial art and Cannon Films charm to be a winner.
Also "I'm just sayin', Toto didn't write a song called "Patricia!" is amazing. Thank you.

Heh, I watched it more than a few times myself. And I tried to put the snake punching on YouTube a few years back when I was doing an awards show parody called "Giant Oscar Mess," but those bastards took it down. Perhaps it's time to give it another try!

Haha, yes, time for another ice bath! I do love that they draw attention to the accent in UNIVERSAL SOLDIER as kind of a one-off, but then when you meet his family, his dad a quasi-Cajun Rance Howard. (Then if you watch the alternate ending, it reveals that Rance is just a government plant, so who knows what they were thinking!)

Silent James said...

You have me dying laughing! That was the funniest review I've ever read! Thank you! You might get a kick out of some of my illustrated reviews of his movies on my site:

Sean Gill said...

Silent James,

Thank you for the compliments (there's been a lot of ridiculous JCVD coverage around here over the years) and I thoroughly enjoyed your illustrated reviews! (I look forward to part 2.)