Mark Reviews Movies


1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Wayne Kramer

Cast: Paul Walker, Cameron Bright, Vera Farmiga, Chazz Palminteri, Johhny Messner, Alex Neuberger, Michael Cudlitz, Ivana Milicevic, John Noble

MPAA Rating:   (for pervasive strong brutal violence and language, sexuality and drug content)

Running Time: 2:02

Release Date: 2/24/06

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Review by Mark Dujsik

Watch the first ten minutes of the evening news any night—you know the ones with all the nasty, horrible things human beings do to each other that grab us to find out what the weather will be like in three days—and you will not even account for half of the sadistic, deranged, and depraved activities and people that the two central characters of Running Scared encounter in one night. The lowlife scum of the earth are here: crooked cops, mobsters (of the generic Italian-American and Russian variety), pedophiles, pimps, spousal abusers, etc., etc., ad nauseam.  Yes, I get the point. It's a sick, sad world. The movie doesn't so much wallow in the abhorrent side of humanity as it showers, bathes, and dresses in it before heading off to work at MTV. This is not so much a movie meant for mass entertainment as it is writer/director Wayne Kramer's portfolio submission to Jerry Bruckheimer in the hopes that he will be considered along with Michael Bay, Dominic Sena, and Tony Scott for Bruckheimer's next big multi-million-dollar action extravaganza. Fortunately, Kramer is a little more considerate of filmmaking and doesn't make an extended trailer out of the material, but there's enough shallow editing and camera tricks with no purpose to make Bay/Sena/Scott a little wary.

A group of mobsters is making a drug deal when suddenly a gang of masked men with shotguns barge in. After a tense standoff, the dealers and a pair of the thieves are dead. The problem, it turns out, is the masked bandits are actually cops. Joey Gazelle (a surprisingly competent Paul Walker) was there, and now, his job is to dispose of the gun used in the killing. He returns home to his wife Teresa (Vera Farmiga) and son Nicky (Alex Neuberger), who's playing with his friend and neighbor Oleg (Cameron Bright). The kids hide in the basement as Joey puts the gun behind a hidden panel with an assortment of others. During dinner, the Gazelles hear a gunshot from next door, and soon after a bullet flies right through their window. Assuming Oleg's father Ivan (John Noble) is responsible, he runs over and forces his way inside. As it turns out, Ivan was actually shot by Oleg, who used the gun Joey was to get rid of. Oleg is on the run, and Joey needs the gun back. He removes the bullets in both houses and makes his way out with Nicky to try to find the runaway and the gun before Joey's cohorts or the cops do.

What follows involves Oleg running, making a stop at some devious location, and running away again to another sick place while Joey tracks him down, always one step behind the kid. Along the way he meets a pimp named Lester (David Warshofsky), who's in the middle of beating one of his pros, a homeless man who wants to rob some dealers with Oleg's gun, and a pair of pedophiles played by Elizabeth Mitchell and Bruce Altman who use their swanky apartment to film pornography. After the initial scene of Oleg in peril, one must wonder how much more Kramer is willing to put him through, so that when he accidentally wanders into the perverts' van, it's just overkill. Are these sickos creepy? Yes. Unnecessary? Definitely. There's no one here to identify with, as even Joey seems more concerned with the gun than the safety of his son's friend (or even his son for that matter). Strangely enough, we learn that Joey isn't really as corrupt as he seems, but Kramer cheats the audience by purposely holding back vital information about him until the climax when it's really too late.

So much is held back until that moment, the revelations should be important, but the details are shouted by a man who just had his face bashed in with hockey pucks within a black lit ice arena. So even if you could understand the convolutions of the plot through the mush-mouthed explanation, your brain would still be reeling from the lighting effect. It all ends, naturally, with a huge, incoherent shoot-out and, of course, the Fallacy of the Talking Villain. The action is admittedly stylish, but Kramer throws in odd touches throughout the proceedings, like a scene where the camera follows the course of a bullet from the gun through a window and a piece of bread and ultimately into a wall. And why Oleg shooting his father is played out in flashback while Joey watches is obviously there for the flourish alone. Perhaps this helps the sadistic material, or perhaps it only serves to elevate it. Either way, the displays are showy in a gratuitous sense, adding nothing to and at times detracting from the already questionable material.

For further evidence of Running Scared's depressing nature, one need only look at a single moment right after the climax. There's a literally explosive event that, if you think about it for a second, is a bit sick, because it happens only to get Oleg where we think he should be—damn the psychological trauma that will inevitably result. Then again, considering what this kid goes through in the course of a night, therapy may only be the tip of the iceberg.

Copyright © 2006 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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