Film Reviews: Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Running Scared
Starring Paul Walker and Cameron Bright. Written and directed by Wayne Kramer. Rated R.
Pulling a Joey

Loathsome and ridiculous, this thriller should have you Running Scared.


First things first: Running Scared has nothing to do with the Roy Orbison song. Nor does it have anything in common with the similarly titled 1986 Hollywood movie, a comic thriller starring Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines as an unlikely couple of wisecracking Chicago cops. For one thing, those older cultural artifacts aren’t bad enough to make you want to drink oven cleaner with an antifreeze chaser. What a surprise, though. That’s exactly how bad the current Running Scared is.

It starts with a not unpromising idea. Paul Walker plays Joey Gazelle, a low-level mobster whose main job is to dispose of guns that have been used to kill people. (“Joey Gazelle” appears to be the character’s actual name rather than one of those mob nicknames. This is about the 438th dumbest thing in the film.) Instead of throwing the guns in the river, Joey is hiding them in his basement in case he ever needs leverage against his bosses. One night, his young son’s best friend Oleg (Cameron Bright) discovers the hiding place. The boy takes one of the guns home, where he finds his scuzzy, knuckle-dragging, meth-lab-operating stepdad (Karel Roden) hitting his mom again. Oleg promptly shoots the old bastard in the shoulder and runs off. Knowing that the gun can be traced, Joey spends the next 18 hours frantically trying to find Oleg before he’s picked up by police, while keeping his fellow gangsters in the dark about the whole incident.

What follows is some crazily overplotted and overheated crap that has little Oleg running around New Jersey being pursued and threatened by everyone from Russian mafia to crooked cops to a knife-wielding pimp. In a single night at least 20 people are killed and/or maimed in front of him, though he probably suffers far worse trauma listening to some of the dialogue here. (Joey’s wife says, “I did not marry an evil man! Fucked-up, but not evil!”) The unbelievable story developments would be easier to take if they were played for camp, but writer-director Wayne Kramer (The Cooler) shows no evidence of a sense of humor. Nor does he have a coherent style, though he futilely tries to inject some visual distinctiveness in places like the climactic showdown, staged on a hockey rink where the mobsters slip and slide all over the ice as they try to shoot each other. This is about the 17th dumbest thing in the film.

There’s no doubt about the absolute dumbest thing in the film. It’s when Oleg runs away from his wounded, revenge-minded stepdad and climbs into a van owned by a couple of pedophiles (Bruce Altman and Elizabeth Mitchell), prompting a rescue mission by Joey’s wife (Vera Farmiga). Even if these child molesters weren’t among the least convincing such characters in movie history, they’d still be an unforgivably cheap way to sort out the script’s moral ambiguity — Hey, I’m killing busloads of people, but at least I’m not a pedophile. (If that’s your barometer, then you’re setting the bar low.) The way these characters are used is hardly the only element that makes Running Scared such a rancid, sadistic, unintentionally funny mess. It’s merely the one that stands out.

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