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Stage and Film : Van Damme Flexes His Acting Muscles in 'Run'

January 18, 1993|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Martial arts star Jean-Claude Van Damme would seem to be a godsend for a poor young widow with two children and a ranch coveted by a stop-at-nothing developer. In "Nowhere to Run" (citywide) the loner Van Damme plays does in fact seem just that: He can take care of the bullies with dispatch, save horses from a burning barn--and even knock over a water tower with a tractor just in time to keep some butane tanks from catching fire and exploding. What's more, he's great with kids (and motorcycles).

There's got to be a hitch, of course, and Van Damme's Sam is a man with a past that could catch up with him at any moment, potentially doing Rosanna Arquette's Clydie more harm than good. Written by Joe Eszterhas and others, the film is simplistic, especially in asking us to believe that Joss Ackland's developer, a smooth-talking, deceptively well-mannered type, would green-light a project before securing all the necessary property.

Even so, it is never less than serviceable and frequently much more. The film represents a new plateau for Van Damme as an actor in that the action is more than balanced out by the love story that inevitably but gradually develops between Clydie and Sam, who is found camping on her property by her small son Mookie (Kieran Culkin, Macaulay's equally talented younger brother) and daughter Bree (Tiffany Taubman). Quite touching, too, is the father-and-son relationship that develops between Sam and Mookie.

The role of Sam must surely be tailor-made for Van Damme, whose slight Belgian accent is "explained" by Sam's French-Canadian nationality. Sam is a man of comparatively few words, but under Richard Harmon's expert direction Van Damme effectively expresses in silence Sam's loneliness, longing and regret for past mistakes as well as his wariness over his growing love for Clydie and her kids. The teaming of Van Damme and Arquette is judicious: The chemistry between them is palpable, and Arquette has the right feisty spirit as a woman determined to hold her ground with the bad guys, which include Ted Levine. There's nice work, too, from Edward Blatchford as a local sheriff torn between his love for Clydie and selling out to Ackland.

Filmed in Sonoma County, "Nowhere to Run" has beautiful scenery and benefits from a spare yet dramatic Mark Isham score. It is a shrewd example of a performer expanding his range while not turning his back on the derring-do that made him a star.

'Nowhere to Run'

Jean-Claude Van Damme: Sam

Rosanna Arquette: Clydie

Kieran Culkin: Mookie

Ted Levine: Mr. Dunston

Joss Ackland: Franklin Hale

A Columbia Pictures presentation. Director Richard Harmon. Producers Craig Baumgarten, Gary Adelson. Executive producer Michael Rachmil. Screenplay by Joe Eszterhas, Leslie Bohem, Randy Feldman; from a story by Eszterhas and Richard Marquand. Cinematographer David Gribble. Editors Zach Staenberg, Mark Helfrich. Costumes Gamila Mariana Fahkry. Music Mark Isham. Production design Dennis Washington. Art director Joseph P. Lucky. Set decorator Anne D. McCulley. Set designer Richard McKenzie. Sound David Kirschner. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.

MPAA-rated R (for violence, language and sexuality).

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