Muscles flexed without effect

HONG Kong's John Woo is La-La Land's hype of the month, having recently finished directing his first Hollywood film, Hard Target, starring another local favourite, Belgian muscleboy Jean-Claude Van Damme.

The ''Muscles from Brussels'' first made it big in Hong Kong movies, but has apparently abandoned these shores in favour of fame and fortune in the US. But that is not to say his films are getting any better, especially if Nowhere to Run (1993, ERA, 95 minutes) is anything to go by.

If you have seen one Van Damme film, you have seen them all: here, he plays an escaped convict wrongly imprisoned. Beneath those bulging biceps and pristine pectorals, we are told, beats the heart of a '90s man: sensitive and caring.

So when he finds out nasty land developers are threatening widow Rosanna Arquette and her cute kids, Van Damme has to leap in to help.

Bones break, jaws dislocate, barns burst into flames and cars explode - but it is just another day on the Van Damme farm, folks. Respected British actor Joss Ackland plays yet another baddy; he has never been the same since he agreed to star in a Pet Shop Boys music video.

Nowhere to Run is average action-movie fodder; let us hope Van Damme does not let the side down in Hard Target.

The lovely Arquette co-stars with yet another actor whose thespian qualifications had become distinctly dubious - the late Anthony Perkins - in the made-for-television feature In the Deep Woods (1992, Columbia Tristar, 92 minutes).

Based on the novel of the same name, the film opens with the latest in a series of bizarre, brutal murders. Apparently nothing connects the victims apart from the fact they are all women, and have all been killed in the woods by someone they know, as there are no signs of a struggle.

Arquette, whose best friend is the most recent victim, is convinced the murders are not only linked but they have all been committed by the same man. And, yes, she knows him.

The pace is snail-like, the acting abominable and the conclusion a cliche. Do not waste your time with this hokum.

In deep woods of another kind altogether are Tom Berenger and Billy Zane in Sniper (1992, Edko Video, 112 minutes). Berenger is a hardened hitman living in the jungles of South America, waiting for his superiors to tell him his next target.

Berenger is cold, clean and clinical - he kills with a single shot from a high-powered, long-distance rifle, and feels no remorse, no regret.

His partner is killed after a botched pick-up and the CIA sends young hotshot Zane as a replacement. Zane thinks he is cool, but is not yet able to shoot and run, making him a liability to Berenger.

Both leads are credible, as are the moral dilemmas each struggle with: no longer is their war waged against a faceless victim - through their telescopic gunsights they can even tell the colour of his eyes.