In 'Nowhere to Run,' The Muscles from Brussels protects a defenseless family-farm from a powerful land developer and his henchmen in a pseudo-remake of the George Stevens classic, 'Shane.' It's only a pseudo-remake because the filmmakers fail to acknowledge — or better yet, give proper credit to — the plot's obvious inspiration. But for fans of the original 1953 film with Alan Ladd, the resemblance is abundantly clear, which is not to say this action drama is bad. In fact, it's surprisingly entertaining, with an engaging narrative that features some awful, no-good varmints, and rightly belongs as one of Jean-Claude Van Damme's more memorable pictures, alongside 'Bloodsport' and 'Time Cop,' and 'Universal Soldier.'
As with 'Shane,' the main character in this straightforward flick is a lone stranger, seemingly dangerous and whose past remains mostly secret to others until a pivotal moment in the story. Only the audience is privy to his being an escaped convict. The reluctant hero, calling himself Sam (Van Damme), desires to live a quite life, unknown and out of public attention. But when he comes across a widow (Rosanna Arquette) and her two children (Kieran Culkin and Tiffany Taubman) violently threatened over her land, Sam can only sit on the sidelines for so long before finally taking matters into his own hands. The man is now forced to risk what little he has left to protect a family powerless to corporate greed.
The similarities are quite uncanny, are they not? Joss "Diplomatic-Immunity" Ackland ('Lethal Weapon 2') plays the viciously evil tycoon Franklin Hale, a man very easy to hate. Like Rufus Ryker, the power-hungry villain is not only an intimidating individual, who pretends to be a friend of the people, but he's also ruthlessly conniving. And no better actor hits the right chord than Ackland. Even after bribing the local sheriff (Edward Blatchford), the land mogul hires himself some fearsome muscle in Ted Levine, whose little magic card-trick is just one of the coolest character introductions ever. It tells us he thinks himself a slick and clever operator, but he is in fact rather coarse and conspicuous in his methods.
Unlike Ladd's Shane, however, Van Damme's Sam is not much of a gunslinger. His weapons of choice are his fists and legs, which he uses somewhat sparingly, meaning only in self-defense. The stranger also comes with a wicked tongue, ready to whip out those snappy comebacks at a moment's notice, which adds a good deal of humor to the movie. "Who are you?" "A lawyer." "Where'd you learn to fight like that?" "Law School." The script unexpectedly places more emphasis on character dialogue rather than action, and 'Nowhere to Run' is all the better for it because the events feel genuine and the narrative moves at a natural pace. Van Damme is even allowed to display a bit of his acting talents opposite Arquette, which sadly, there is not very much of as seen here. But at least, he gives it his all.
Working from a screenplay by Joe Eszterhas ('Basic Instinct'), Leslie Bohem ('Daylight') and Randy Feldman ('Tango & Cash'), director Robert Harmon, whose only other noteworthy title is 'The Hitcher (1986),' does fairly well behind the camera. It's nothing standout, but he brings a brisk, energetic style and makes Van Damme's many cheesy one-liners come across as funnily nature. Sure, the plot is a rehash of a classic western, but it's fun and satisfying nonetheless, serving the right, engaging tone for an action matinee on a Sunday afternoon.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Image Entertainment brings 'Nowhere to Run' to Blu-ray on Region A locked, BD25 disc inside a blue eco-vortex keepcase. At startup, viewers are taken directly to the main menu selection with music playing in the background.
Riding unto Blu-ray is a respectable high-def presentation of 'Nowhere to Run.' The AVC-encoded transfer shows many good-looking scenes with average-to-great definition and fine object detailing. With average crisp contrast levels, the picture displays visible textures in hair, clothing and facial complexions, especially in close-ups. Surrounding foliage and other bright exterior shots look best with distinct lines in and around the Anderson farm.
These are often countered with many comparatively weaker sequences. Shadows in poorly-lit interiors tend to obscure much of the background info, and grain significantly spikes indoors, which should be expected. Blacks are strong and mostly deep though they never really standout in any noteworthy way. Colors are bold and cleanly rendered with a palette that leans more towards natural earth tones.
This offers a nice image overall, but nothing remarkable either.
The audio to this entertaining Van Damme action drama fares much better on Blu-ray.
The uncompressed PCM stereo soundtrack is surprisingly active and energetic, displaying plenty of atmospherics which create a very engaging soundfield. Off-screen effects, like wind blowing through the trees or crickets chirping in the distance, not only expand the soundstage with convincing warmth and presence, but lend themselves nicely to the surrounds. Although the low-end is noticeably lacking is several scenes, particularly during gunshots, dynamic range still delivers clean, distinguishable mids and highs without distortion. Dialogue is very well-prioritized and perfectly audible in the center of the screen.
This is an amazingly and unexpectedly satisfying lossless mix.
Sadly, the producers debut 'Nowhere to Run' to Blu-ray without any special features.
Robert Harmon's 'Nowhere to Run' takes clear inspiration from George Stevens' classic 'Shane.' It's a fairly generic melodrama built around Van Damme's martial arts talents. But surprisingly, this modernized western is actually rather entertaining and satisfying for those lazy Sunday afternoons. The Blu-ray features an average picture quality that's not half-bad and the audio offers a better presentation, but it arrives with a barebones package which fans won't appreciate. Van Damme enthusiasts will likely be happy given the price point, but others will want to rent it first.