Directed by Wayne Kramer. Starring Paul Walker, Chazz Palminteri, Cameron Bright, Vera Farmiga, Johnny Messner, Ivana Milicevic, Alex Neuberger. (2006, R, 119 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., March 3, 2006
Watching Running Scared, director Wayne Kramer's slick and unnervingly gratuitous follow-up to his fine William H. Macy vehicle The Cooler, makes you feel as though you're locked in an overused Porta Potti on a hot summer day with no Charmin in sight and the dregs of society queueing up outside, armed with dull knives and well-thumbed copies of Sartre's Being and Nothingness. It's not just a bad movie – it actually manages to suck the very hope out of the air, leaving behind a cinematic vacuum populated by mobsters, sadists, pedophiliac demon-people, and an overwhelming sense of futility that just makes you want to run in the other direction. Kramer's a solid director – the film is filled to bursting with a kind of neoprene, blacklight flair, rampant action sequences and shoot-outs that, had they not been done with the assistance of computer graphics, surely would have netted Kramer an NC-17 rating. The story follows young New Jersey (doubled by Prague) mob attaché Joey Gazelle (Walker) and his search for the missing chrome-plated revolver he was supposed to have dumped in the local river in the wake of a botched drug deal that left three crooked cops dead. As handguns are wont to do, the piece is stolen from its hiding place in Joey's basement by 10-year-old next-door neighbor Oleg (Bright), who then uses it to shoot his abusive, methamphetamine- addled Russian émigré father, Anzor (whose blighted sense of mission in life comes from John Wayne in Mark Rydell's 1972 oater The Cowboys). With Oleg on the lam and a band of thuggish, dirty cops (led by a greasy Palminteri) sniffing around, Joey's only hope is to use his own son Nicky (Neuberger) to help him locate Oleg and thereby recover the murder weapon before either his own crew or Little Odessa's Russian mob wipes him off the face of the earth forever. Running Scared has a lot going on – there are double- and triple-crosses too complex (and unnecessary) to get into here – and the pace is bizarrely, almost cartoonishly, frenetic, as though someone had spiked your morning coffee with a double shot of Benzedrine and LSD. It makes for a very bad trip. So vile are the characters depicted here – in particular the soul-crushingly repellent husband-and-wife operators of a kiddie-porn operation that will either clear the theatre or give audiences nightmares for weeks to come – that even one character's final salvation is completely overwhelmed by the garish and theatrically repugnant amorality of the film's nihilistic notion of life itself. It appears Kramer's optimistic aim was headed in the direction of Robert Rodriguez's Sin City, which also mined the gutter for antihero chutzpah and pulled it off with something approaching perfection. The good guys and bad guys of Running Scared, on the other hand, are wholly interchangeable monsters. No one's truly good at all, and the film's moral compass swings wildly out of control, blanketed in all manner of hyper-violent digital gore effects and a thick, black nausea of the soul. It's not even fun watching the monsters get their just deserts; it's just depressing.