Van Damme was on a roll in the late eighties and early nineties, making some of the most fun, simple action movies of the era. His ability to get a laugh while being renowned for his nice-guy qualities have ensured his continued success, even if most of his movies now are straight-to-DVD capers.
In Nowhere to Run, a mid echelon movie in terms of his output, he stars with an established cast as another misunderstood nice guy – an escaped convict who decides to help a young widow and her family who are struggling against a local developer who is forcing them out of their home. There is plenty of action, some strong performances, and some very funny moments. Van Damme plays Sam, a mysterious convict who has escaped from prison. He sleeps in a tent outside a small town where two local young kids find and befriend him. Eventually their mother Clydie, played by Rosanna Arquette, finds out and invites him into their home cautiously. Of course they fall for each other, much to the distaste of local Sheriff and love interest Lonnie, who decides to look into Sam’s background. Franklin Hale, played with typical malevolent relish by Joss Ackland, is the main bad guy, but his side-arm Levine is the main threat. Sam helps the family, foiling Hale at every turn, but all the while his own unspoken past is catching up to him…
Arquette, Culkin, Levine, and Taubman as the daughter are particularly good, and the story tries to be light-hearted yet moral. It’s another attempt to achieve a wider audience for Van Damme, and it is definitely one of his most accessible thanks to the good cast and humour. The various discussions on Van Damme’s naked body are always humorous. Overall another good Van Damme film which will please fans, and may interest a few others.
Let us know in the comments what you think of Nowhere To Run!
Another of Van Damme’s best before he hit the big time, AWOL features a story written by the man himself. Again we have a revenge plot, but this time there is more depth as Van Damme’s character Lyon is trying to help his brother, and his brother’s wife and daughter from eviction. When he hears of his brother’s problems he flees the Foreign Legion, a rather large crime, and goes to America to help. Of course, the Legion sends some tough guys after him who he must constantly evade. In order to earn money for his new family he becomes an underground fighter, managed by a likable bum called Joshua. Lyon and Joshua become close friends and Lyon gains recognition as a talented fighter, rising through the underground ranks. The money is never enough though, and he keeps his way of income a secret. Before long, a rich promoter called Cynthia has noticed his talents and decides to take arrange fights for him, meaning his money increases. Cynthia is ,of course, evil and only in the game for her herself. She pits Lyon against Atilla, the most fierce fighter there is, but she fixes the fight so that all bets will go to her. Lyon must defeat Atilla, but he may lose all his money in doing so.
The fights here are good, well staged and filmed, and there are some good performances. Van Damme is his usual self, but Harrison Page and Deborah Rennard add some skill to the proceedings, raising it above the average 80s martial arts movie. Lisa Pelikan gets our sympathy as the young wife, and Ashley Johnson is okay as the daughter. There are enough simple twists to keep us involved and the plot has its cheesy charm. There is also some good dialogue which will get a few laughs. Another must for Van Damme fans, this one will appeal to a wider action movie audience, but it’s never going to win any awards.
Enjoying my older reviews? Me neither! Let us know in the comments what you thought of Lionheart/AWOL!
Probably the most famous of Van Damme’s early work, Kickboxer is another simple story of revenge and a showcase for his skills as a martial artist. It has some good fights, and some interesting moments showing the arduous difficulty of training and trying to achieve your best while not losing your focus. Although it suffers from some cheesy acting, dialogue, music, and a highly disturbing dance scene, this is a must for Van Damme fans, and those with an interest in martial arts movies who don’t want to stray too far from the West.
Van Damme stars as Kurt Sloane, the younger brother of a flashy American Kickboxer. They train together, but his brother Eric seems to be more interested in looking like a good fighter than actually finding the ability and skill to be one. Eric takes part in a fighting competition and is crippled and almost killed by Tong Po – a fearsome Kickboxer with a great rage and discipline. Kurt decides to avenge his brother, but no-one will train him as they believe Tong Po is too popular and strong. Eventually he finds a wizened old trainer in the middle of nowhere who teaches him to reach his full potential and push through barriers which he never though he could surpass. He also meets Winston Tyler who provides some laughs, and Mylee who provides a potential love interest. Of course it is the fights that matter, and the revenge plot is safe enough to give the fights reason. Rather than cheap montages, we see the tough training regime Kurt goes through, and see Tong Po kicking a cement wall to build up the strength and invulnerability of his foot. Sounds odd yes, but how else would we know he’s a hard lad? Throw in a sub-plot about gangsters and kidnapping and it all builds to a thrilling in ring climax. A good film for fight fans, light-hearted, fast, and worth watching.
Let us know in the comments what you think of Kickboxer – just another crappy action movie or one of Van Damme’s better films?
One of Van Damme’s best, and the first in many ‘dual roles’, Double Impact has strong martial arts scenes mixed with some old style gun action, some good performances, and a typical story which works well. With a bigger budget Van Damme was able to hire better writers, directors, and actors, and here it shows. Still, there is nothing new story-wise but it is exciting, explosive, and should definitely be seen by those even with a passing interest in the action genre.
Van Damme plays two twins separated at birth after their parents were brutally murdered by a gang-lord. Chad is raised in Paris by Frank- a friend of his parents, and his old bodyguard, and he has had a quiet, safe life where he is a fitness instructor and martial artist. His lost twin is a small time hood called Alex who lives with his girlfriend in Hong Kong. Alex has been raised alone and has had a difficult life where he has learnt to become street smart, tough, and wary of outsiders. When Chad finds out about his brother he travels to Hong Kong to find him. Alex doesn’t care, especially as Chad is so damn nice and naive, but he becomes paranoid about his Chad’s relationship with his girlfriend Danielle. They find out that the group that killed their parents is in town for a major deal, and soon prepare for revenge. However, the bad guy Griffith has an army of defenders including femme fatale Kara, Raymond Zang, and good old Bolo Yeung (whose appearance at the age of 50 is quite frankly shocking!). The brothers must confront their differences if they are to avenge their parents.
The story and characters are basic, but Van Damme does a good job in portraying the two in a different manner, and is helped by a fine supporting cast. Some of the dialogue is of course funny like most in the genre, and if you are not a fan of the genre you will probably not ever see this. However it has many good fights and strong action, and the actors are likable enough so if you are not a fan you should give it a try before any of Van Damme’s earlier movies. This was a step towards action and away from pure martial arts for Van Damme, and it was his best film so far.
As always, feel free to comment on the movie and review. Is this the best of the dual JCVD films?
What was oddly supposed to be a sequel to Dolph Lungren’s Masters of the Universe, Cyborg bares no relation to He-Man, Skeletor and Co. and is a strange mix of sci-fi, martial arts, and chase movie. The film is set in a desolate wasteland of the future where bandits travel the land rampaging and killing. Scientists are close to finding a cure for the disease which has almost wiped out every human. Nady Simmons holds the key and she must get to the scientists at Atlanta if there is to be any hope. However, a maniacal group of warriors is after her. She enlists the help of a strong drifter who happens to be a martial arts expert- Gibson, and who has motives of his own for helping her. For some reason all the main characters are named after guitars or parts of guitars- the main bad guy Fender Tremelo seems to be invincible and chases Nady and Gibson everywhere. It is up to him to protect her from the evil forces and get her to Atlanta safely. This is cheap looking, has poor acting, and some average fight scenes. However, it is still enjoyable, funny in parts, and has an interesting look to it. Maybe if it had had more money thrown at it, and a stronger cast it could have been more successful. The plot is simple but throws up a few ‘surprises’, and there are a few good fights and set pieces. Probably one for Van Damme fans only.
Feel free to leave any comments on the movie- did I get it wrong and is it an underrated classic?
As a fan of the more extreme side of cinema, I ask you to join me, as I explore the history of Cinema's most extreme movies with all the sex, violence and symbolism intact. I'm here to reflect on the extreme movies that have come and gone to see what they mean, see what makes them so extreme, and of course, see if they're any good.