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B-FILM ISN'T UP TO VAN DAMME'S POTENTIAL

Like the outlaw of 100 westerns, Jean-Claude Van Damme comes riding out of nowhere, a passenger on a prison bus traveling through an eerily empty mountain landscape. It's a neat effect, and gives the Van Damme fan hope that "Nowhere to Run" might be the movie to launch the Belgian-born fight-meister as a real Hollywood star.

It's not all downhill from there exactly, but it has all been done before: the lonely outlaw, who is romancing the widow lady, who is fighting the evil land developers. If only so many of the lines weren't so goofy and the story weren't so thin.

Van Damme certainly has the charisma and leading-man good looks for a part like this, and will never need a six-shooter as long as his body parts are in working order. He even gets a couple of funny lines ("Where'd you learn to fight like that?" "Law school").

It's too bad, though, that he always has to explain his accent. Telling a redneck sheriff "I'm from Quebec" -- pronounced Ke-beck, of course -- doesn't seem to wash in this town.

Rosanna Arquette is a talented actress who seems woefully miscast here, or perhaps just badly in need of better lines. As Clydie, the lonely widow lady, she is supposed to be running the ranch but spends most of her time bouncing around in tight tank tops and no bra. One of her more ridiculous lines: As multiple dynamite blasts shake the house, she tells her children, "It's nothing."

It is the relationship between Van Damme and Clydie's son (played by Kieran Culkin, the "Home Alone" star's younger brother) that is central to the movie. And Culkin is decent as Mookie, who sees Van Damme as a father figure and conspires to find a way to get him to stay forever. Culkin even gets to do an amusing "Home Alone" scene at one point, a barn chase with a bad guy.

It would have been nice to develop Van Damme's character: He's supposed to be a hardened prison inmate who gradually warms up to the boy, but we never see a hint of the experiences that hardened him. It would have been nice to develop the plot behind the land grab: All we see is a bunch of creepy blond guys who use bulldozers and arson to push through some project that is never fully explained, apparently with the approval of the authorities, which is never fully explained.

Sometimes attention to the little details can enhance a movie even with a predictable plot like this one. But many of the small details are done badly. For instance, Van Damme just happens to have a shovel handy in his getaway car so he can bury his friend. And he's supposed to be hiding but seems to have pitched his L.L. Bean tent in plain sight. And why is he always cooking steaks over the campfire, when the smoke will surely give him away?

There are also a few tackytouches that seem jarringly out of place in your typical Hollywood western: the scene where Peeping Jean watches Clydie undress, Clydie openly ogling our hero when she interrupts him in the shower. And a couple of conversations involving Clydie's children should have been left on the cutting room floor.

Do we really need to have the little girl at the dinner table remarking about the size of our hero's sex organ, or watching a home movie of her dead father and saying, "Daddy was a good kisser"? Do we really need to have Mookie say to his mother, on the Morning After, "Boy, what did you do to him" with that knowing, adult look?

But despite all the silly stuff, Van Damme has the star power to be entertaining. The gore is mostly limited to body blows and the total body count is three, unless you add the one cow. In fact, it's sometimes hard to tell if the bad guys are dead or just out for the count. The ending is satisfying, something you can't say for a lot of B-movies.

REVIEW
Nowhere to Run

Rating: * * * Jean-Claude Van Damme, Rosanna Arquette and Kieran Culkin in romantic muscle fantasy.
Rated R, at the Market Arcade, Maple Ridge and Thruway Mall theaters.

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