Jean-Claude Van Damme movie isn’t about cinematographic innovation and nobody has ever watched his movies with that in mind. A Van Damme movie is about corny one-liners, escapism and most of all eye-popping stunt work. Nowhere To Run (1993) delivers on all three fronts to be sure even if Nowhere To Run isn’t Van Damme’s best showcase as a martial arts action hero. Nowhere To Run is, however, Van Damme’s most quintessentially American action movie.
Nowhere To Run is essentially a re-make of the George Stevens western Shane (1953) with Van Damme taking on the Alan Ladd role. Van Damme plays Sam, a man wrongly convicted of murder (though correctly convicted of armed robbery), who escapes prison to become the guardian angel of widow Clydie (Rosanna Arquette) and her children Mookie (Kieran Culkin) and Bree (Tiffany Taubman). Clydie is being harassed by an evil developer, Franklin Hale (Joss Ackland), and his sinister goon Mr. Dunston (Ted Levine) who have plans to make millions by building a pre-fab development on Clydie’s farm.
Nowhere To Run hits every beat one would expect in a narrative that pits the values of the American heartland against corporate corruption. The western genre clearly permeates every frame of Nowhere To Run from the scenes of Van Damme rescuing horses from a burning barn to Van Damme’s motorcycle chase scene across the hills and dusty valleys of Southern California. Not only does Nowhere To Run operate as a western but it looks like one too.
Director Robert Harmon, best known for helming the cult classic The Hitcher (1986), makes the most of this western revival. What really makes Nowhere To Run feel like it has any emotional urgency is Rosanna Arquette’s performance as a single mother. Though Arquette’s character is little more than an excuse to get Van Damme involved in the conflict she still manages to give the impression that Clydie has dimensions that just aren’t explored. That the central narrative device is a character of even passing complexity is unique in a Van Damme adventure.
The great weakness of Nowhere To Run is that it updates the western in terms of its visual cues and basic plot points but never in terms of the broader social and political ramifications inherent to its narrative. The crimes that Mr. Hale commits in his efforts to force farmers from their land are so extreme that one is constantly wondering why the FBI is after Van Damme when there is a far more obvious criminal who is much more dangerous terrorizing the community. The morality in Nowhere To Run is just too simple, it is just too close to its source material; the westerns of the fifties.