In the oeuvre of Jean-Claude Van Damme, NOWHERE TO RUN is spectacularly generic. This 1993 actioner is akin to a made-for-TV movie and would pass as such were it not for a few moments of resilient nudity and a touch of violence. What makes this effort distinctive is that it features writing by Joe Eszterhas, who penned screenplays for BASIC INSTINCT, SHOWGIRLS and FLASHDANCE. NOWHERE TO RUN is nothing like the aforementioned.

Van Damme is Sam, a convict from Quebec serving time somewhere in the United States. He escapes custody and goes on the lam, where he winds up at a farmhouse owned by Clydie (Rosanna Arquette). She’s a widow with two kids (Kieran Culkin and Tiffany Taubman) and she’s got trouble in the form of a property developer (Joss Ackland) who wants her land. This leads to a few physical run-ins with Sam and some thugs, with the criminal’s real identity stirring up even more trouble.

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NOWHERE TO RUN is disappointingly typical. It dawdles like a modern western, with Van Damme eschewing some of his more electrifying momentum in favour of less primitive confrontations. The fight scenes are forgettable, especially as we are to believe Ted Levine as a match for the kick-ass rebel who likes to bathe in the river. Van Damme’s Sam is heavy on the conversation here, which is a problem because Van Damme’s Sam isn’t too good at the conversation here.

NOWHERE TO RUN is too elusive for its own good. The movie has no guts. There is a swipe of salaciousness when Sam peeps on a stark-naked Clydie, plus a love scene suggests something more virile in the mix. But Eszterhas’ screenplay, also written by Les Bohem with story help by RETURN OF THE JEDI director Richard Marquand, is a blunted blade. The writer has all but disowned NOWHERE TO RUN. Van Damme, too, is dismissive of this whole affair and that, as you might imagine, is for the best.

Jack Starrett’s HOLLYWOOD MAN is an exploitation film about making an exploitation film. It’s also a grubby crime picture that features a terrific villain and an ending to die for. This 1976 flick is definitely of the shoestring variety and it features a screenplay by-committee, with cinematography by Robert C. Jessup and a recurring title track sung by Tony Chance that gives the whole thing a hokey but troubled feel. It runs at times like a made-for-TV jaunt, but there’s an ugly streak that is straight drive-in movie.

William Smith is Rafe Stoker, an actor/filmmaker in the business of making biker movies. He’s run out of support in Hollywood, as his films have become passé. Rafe turns to the mob and puts his assets up as collateral for the green he needs. The mob gives him a time limit and sends the malicious gangster Harvey (Ray Girardin) and his cronies to make sure the flick isn’t made on time. Harvey becomes obsessed with Rafe and tries all sorts of things to shut down production, while his crazy girlfriend (Jennifer Billingsley) and co-dependent henchman (Jude Farese) are along for the ride.

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Starrett may be in the director’s chair here, but HOLLYWOOD MAN is Smith’s baby. He’s the star and one of many producers and writers, which gives his character a personal touch. Rafe is deeply invested in the production of his movie within the movie. It is his desperation and love for filmmaking that puts him in debt with the mob in the first place and the final scene underscores just how far the tendrils of crime and money can reach.

HOLLYWOOD MAN also benefits from Girardin’s striking performance as Harvey. His character is a creep, to put it kindly. He is a psychotic man who cuts a bloody swath across the country. His girlfriend is a mad accessory who romps in the surf wearing a pinched wedding dress and seems internally broken in just about every way. She’s tragic, as is Farese’s Rhodes. Together, they illustrate how destructive Harvey’s world is and how magnetic his personality can be. HOLLYWOOD MAN sets Harvey’s alluring neurosis on a collision course with Rafe’s frantic skill and the results are dirty, cheap and strangely fascinating.

A grimy road movie laced with blatant insinuations, JACKSON COUNTY JAIL has the distinction of featuring a very young Tommy Lee Jones in one of his earliest roles. It’s directed by Michael Miller with a screenplay by Donald E. Stewart. On its face, JACKSON COUNTY JAIL is unadulterated exploitation and all the better for it. It cuts a wide ribbon and makes big ugly points along the way and there’s not a damn thing delicate about it.

Yvette Mimieux stars as Dinah, an advertising executive in Los Angeles. She’s shamed by her misogynistic boss and finds her husband cheating on her (again). She drives to New York for a fresh start. This takes her through several rustic areas, whereupon she’s robbed by a pair of drugged-out ramblers (Howard Hesseman and Marciee Drake) and runs into further trouble when she tries to get help. She’s thrown in the slammer, where she’s raped by a guard. She subsequently escapes and goes on the lam with fellow prisoner Coley (Jones).

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JACKSON COUNTY JAIL stacks its intentions immediately, piling up big city liberal tropes and setting Dinah as an icon of contemporary feminism. She stands up to her slimy boss, who tells her that he knows what women want to be told. She leaves her philandering husband and there is mention of an abortion. She even experiences a moment of camaraderie with a woman in a diner who just so happens to be heading in the opposite direction. Every man that crosses her path is aptly subject to distrust.

The film is also cynical about the pastoral communities that dot Dinah’s path. Lines are drawn in the sand. The accosting barkeep is a good ol’ boy who gave soda-pop to the church, while her rapist touches on mortification of the flesh after he commits his nauseating act. He begs forgiveness, yet nothing halts his sin. This is a hard critique of American religion and the unwashed masses. It’s only slightly impaired by the fact that everything is so blatant. Even Jones’ character describes the country and its residents as a “rip-off,” which is a point made more unadulterated by JACKSON COUNTY JAIL’s blaring final shot.