Jean-Claude: we get no kick out of slow

January 16, 1993|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

"Nowhere to Run" has nowhere to go, but why does it have to go there so slowly?

Directed at an escargot's pace by Robert Harmon, the new Jean-Claude Van Damme kickfest just crawls along the ground from familiar situation to familiar situation.

Harmon once directed a nasty but dynamic chase thriller called "The Hitchhiker" that was so perverse it all but got him kicked out of the business. He's back, and this time he's not taking any chances. "Nowhere" is as generic and mainstream as a Big Mac.

Van Damme plays an "innocent" convict who is busted out of jail by the man who committed the actual crime, though the movie's idea of innocence is strictly from Hollywood and not law school -- in any state in the nation, Van Damme was guilty, guilty, guilty. Roaming the back roads of America, Van Damme comes across a young farm widow (Rosanna Arquette) who, with her two adorable children, is being menaced by a land development company. If I'm not mistaken this same story formed the plot of at least 70 percent of the movies Roy Rogers ever made.

Neither Arquette nor Van Damme could be considered accomplished performers and the electricity between them wouldn't keep a penlight beaming for more than a minute or two. The two children are ickily sentimentalized and I was actually offended by the way the film kept involving them in her spectacularly dreary sex life. But worst of all, the movie doesn't accelerate and the fight sequences, though brutal, aren't liberating in their grace and power.

In fact, they're rather dull. Van Damme is a kick boxer and his spin kick is one of the great natural wonders of the world: he looks like Dizzy Dean winding up before uncorking. But Harmon represses this showy action in favor of far more conventional fisticuffs of exactly the sort Roy Rogers was capable. Why?

Ted Levine, an excellent actor (he was the kook in "Silence of the Lambs") brings some leering intensity to the role of the land company's henchman, but no case is ever made for his special talents at physical mayhem. Why is he such a worthy opponent of Van Damme? Still, Levine is more amusing than anyone else.


'Nowhere to Run'

Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme and Rosanna Arquette.

Directed by Robert Harmon.

Released by Columbia.

Rated R.


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