Judge Clark Douglas' nose is running funny.
Sometimes you have to stop running to move ahead.
"Where's the Pez dispenser?"
Facts of the Case
Michael (Maximilian Osinski, The Express) and Eddie (Gene Gallerano, Underdogs) have just graduated from college. The two best friends can't wait to jump into the world of business, and they have sent out applications. While they're waiting for managers and supervisors to start calling, the two guys need a place to stay. After determining that they do not want to stay with their families under any circumstances, Michael and Eddie begrudgingly agree to rent out the garage of a slightly cranky elderly blind man named Stan (Louis Zorich, Mad About You). Over the course of the next 30 days, Michael and Eddie are going to learn a lot about themselves and a lot about life.
Running Funny is a low-budget independent film based on the play of the same name by Charles Evered. The film was directed and adapted for the screen by Evered's young nephew, Anthony Grippa. This is the first film that Grippa has directed, and he didn't have many resources to work with other than his family ties to the playwright. For only $10,000, Grippa and a very small cast and crew put together an intimate little screen version of Evered's Mamet-esque sympathetic portrait of clueless young college graduates.
It's the "Mamet-esque" part where things start to become a bit tricky. Much of Evered's play relies of very stylized dialogue that demands to be delivered in a very specific manner. Whenever one is dealing with such carefully measured yet larger-than-life language (such as material written by Mamet, Pinter, or Shakespeare for instance), sharp verbal precision is required. In order to sell the heightened reality of the language, the actors must perfect the rhythms that have been built into their lines. This is why actors like Ricky Jay, William H. Macy, Joe Mantegna, Kenneth Branagh, and Derek Jacobi are so valuable. I am not indicating that Evered's writing is on the level of Mamet or Pinter. However, it does employ some of the same techniques, and the actors here just aren't capable of making it work.
Gallerano and Osinski are both relative unknowns, and they seem like reasonably gifted young actors. If they were working with dialogue that was a bit more straightforward and down-to-earth (as they do on occasion, the level of stylization varies from scene to scene), I imagine that they would fare pretty well. Unfortunately, they are presented with quite a challenging task in this movie, and they just can't handle it. The higher the dialogue aims, the more amateurish and awkward the performances become. That's really unfortunate, because the scenes that misfire really spotlight the low production values of the film.
Technical credits aren't particularly good. Daniel Sharnoff's cinematography is flat and unimaginative, and the sound is really lacking during several sequences, too. The score by Dan Ingala is a bit on the obnoxious side, borrowing bits and pieces from Polyphonic Spree unsuccessfully. These weak tech credits aren't helped by the poor (non-anamorphic!) DVD transfer, which is disappointing to say the least. Flesh tones are off, the image looks faded and grimy, and there is absolutely no depth. We are also treated to rather uninvolving 2.0 sound that occasionally cranks up the music a bit too loud and allows the dialogue to become a bit inaudible at times. How about supplements? The most notable one is a chatty audio commentary with Grippa, Evered, and Gallerano. They have fun talking about working on a very low budget, and offer some interesting insights. A sweet short film directed by Grippa called Skeeball is also included, and is worth a look despite terrible audio and video quality. We also get a photo gallery and the film's theatrical trailer.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As much as the two younger actors struggle with some of the dialogue, they occasionally manage to rise to the occasion. A running gag involving how the duo attempt to answer the telephone is genuinely entertaining, and leads to one particularly frantic scene that serves as the film's highlight. These two do have some natural talent, but the sort of dialogue provided here requires more than natural talent. It requires a lot of challenging training, and it's evident that these two are lacking in that department. I'd rather see modestly successful improvisation than a poor execution of good writing. Anyway, this is the rebuttal witnesses section, and this is a weak rebuttal. The two young actors may still go somewhere yet.
The one thing that I have absolutely no complaints about is the performance of Louis Zorich, who plays Stan. At first, it seemed that Stan was just another cranky old man who turns out to be sweet and offers some valuable life lessons. And, well, that's precisely the sort of character that Stan is. Nonetheless, Zorich plays the role with a lot of sincerity and a little bit of originality. He also knows how to deliver a tough line of dialogue. I enjoyed all of Zorich's scenes, and his thoughtful performance is the greatest attribute of Running Funny.
This film is a bit on the messy side, and I'm sorry to report that the budget constraints really have damaged the overall effort. Still, there are signs of promise and potential hanging around the edges, and hopefully that everyone involved will tap into that potential next time.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Life Size Entertainment
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