This prison bus is transporting convicts to their sentences in jail, but on their way a car suddenly pulls out in front of it and causes the vehicle to flip over and crash into the roadside. One of the convicts is Sam Gillen (Jean-Claude Van Damme), who unbeknownst to the driver and the guard is in cahoots with the driver of the errant car: this is an escape attempt and the two criminals soon have Sam free and are headed off into the distance. But not before the guard manages to get a shot off at the disappearing car, and kills Sam's partner. Yet fate has other plans for the fugitive...
Although you wouldn't know it from the opening ten minutes, Nowhere to Run was not your usual Jean-Claude Van Damme movie, it wasn't even a biopic of Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, it was a game try at opening up the appeal of the star to a wider audience than the usual beer and pizza crowd. Unfortunately, it might have tried to draw in the female audience, but the ladies who liked to watch him were happier watching the muscular Belgian kicking heads than trying to emote in sentimental scenes with Rosanna Arquette and the two children playing her offspring. It was not until JCVD around fifteen years later that he would try to reinvent himself again.
And even that was far more dramatic than what we got here, which was essentially a Western in modern guise (seeing Jean-Claude in an actual Western might have been more interesting, however). Think Shane with Van Damme replacing Alan Ladd and you're halfway there to what was achieved, if "achieved" meant halfheartedly warming over a story that had become a cliché in the intervening years. So we were asked to sit through scenes of the hero supposedly charming us by being nice to small children (Kieran Culkin and Tiffany Taubman) and romancing their widowed mother (Arquette) as all the while he comes to terms with not being such a bad chap after all.
Needless to say, this kind of thing has not gone down well with the Van Damme fans over the years, with the fight scenes coming in for criticism for their lack of conviction in comparison with the full on violence that they had been used to previously, and afterwards, for that matter. Yet if you think of Nowhere to Run as not so much an update of Shane and more a reimagining of a Charles Bronson effort off the seventies then perhaps it's a shade more palatable. If anything, it seems far too small scale, in spite of the plot that sees Sam take on the thugs of your basic corporate scum who are planning to "redevelop" the countryide where Arquette's family of three now live.
Needless to say, she and her neighbour are refusing to leave, but we can understand how disruptive the big business is because every so often they set off dynamite charges which shake their house, although curiously the head man Joss Ackland's office remains rock solid in spite of being at least a mile closer to the explosion. Said head man brings in tough guy Dunston to take care of anyone opposing him, not, sadly the funloving orang utan but actually a heavy played by Ted Levine, doing wonders with a stock role, though not quite enough to lift this above the average. Suffice to say, with Sam settling in with Arquette's Clydie, though still a wanted man, something's gotta give, and if you can't see where this pared down to the basics plot is heading then you might enjoy Nowhere to Run. For everyone else, you may well ponder that if Van Damme wanted an image change, he should have tried something more audacious, which he did eventually. Music by Mark Isham.