Judge David Johnson is never going to look at creepy married couples with superhero outfits hanging in their closet the same again.
Ready. Aim. Run.
Paul Walker (Into the Blue) stars in quite possibly the most outrageous, ridiculous, and viscerally entertaining movie I've ever seen.
Facts of the Case
Walker plays Joey Gazzelle, a low-level thug in the Perello crime family. His job his simple: he disposes of all the guns used by the Perello boys to commit various acts of homicidal malfeasance. When he's not busting balls with the goon squad, he's home making out with his spitfire wife Teresa (Vera Farmiga) and struggling to keep his son Nicky from flunking out of school. His life is a constant blur of minor illegalities, gunfire, and family drama.
On this night, though, all that insanity gets pushed to 11. After a thwarted hold-up leaves some dirty cops dead, Joey is instructed to jettison the hot weapon. He stows it in his basement, and, unknown to him, the young neighbor boy Oleg (Cameron Bright, Birth) swipes it to put a couple into his abusive stepfather. Hearing the gunshots, Joey scrambles next door, only to find the father bleeding and the boy gone—along with his gun.
Joey has one night to track down the gun before the police get a hold of it, match up the slug, and seal his death sentence. But this will be no simple scavenger hunt. Joey will have to contend with a crooked detective (Chazz Palminteri), the Russian mob, even his own Mafia buddies. Meanwhile, Oleg has his own house of horrors to navigate, fraught with homicidal pedophiles, drugged-out homeless men, and wannabe pimps. Oh, and the kitchen sink, too.
Holy friggin' crap is this movie a shotgun blast of sensory overload between the eyes. Director Wayne Kramer (The Cooler) has delivered a non-stop action workhorse, loaded sideways with brutal violence, nightmarish caricatures, full frontal female nudity, gun-toting kids, washing machine cunnilingus, and more F-bombs than Training Day and my drunk neighbor from Hampton Beach combined.
Running Scared is a hyperkinetic fairy tale, juiced on PCP, and sporting the attention span of a hypoglycemic 9-year-old in a Krispy Kreme. From the get-go, with an overly-stylized shootout, the film detonates, pausing the action only for marginal character development. But once Oleg gets the gun, though, it's on, and the flick barrels forward to its gratuitously violent conclusion. In fact, the only break in the mayhem is the extended sequence where the focus shifts to Teresa and her entanglement with a pedophilic married couple. More on that in a bit.
The film is really a progression of encounters, each one growing more surreal and overblown that the one that preceded it. The only anchors: our main characters, and the hunt for the stolen gun. It's the gun that acts as the catalyst, the carrot on the stick that keeps the main players rocketing forward and headlong into weirdness.
A sampling: Oleg gets it the worse, running into eerie, shrouded street people, a violent pimp who's not nearly as bad-ass as he thinks he is, and, the big one, that evil child-murdering couple. All of these nasties are grotesque caricatures, their mannerisms and affectations cranked up to the ionosphere ("Say hello to my little friend!" the pimp shouts with this gun drawn), reflecting the bombastic Grimm fairy tale feel Kramer is after. As Oleg navigates this hellish realm, Kramer sets it up so we, as the audience, continually wonder what he can possibly do to top what he have just seen. And he does, consistently. I mean, seriously, wait until you get to the pedophile scene, an almost cartoonish sequence that still remains hugely disturbing. With this long storyline, Kramer has left much of the evil to our imagination and pays it off with Teresa riding to the rescue. But the tension is thick, the heavies creepy, and, wait, was that a demon in the window?
Paul Walker mans the more action-oriented aspect of the film, from flaming interrogations to the ice rink denouement where he takes some slapshots to the face. All bets are off in the finale, the mayhem bathed in black light and the violence amazingly over-the-top; here Kramer has achieved a true comic-book feel. I know Walker is a favorite whipping boy of most cinephiles, but I've always liked the guy. I think he manages to pull off his dude/frat boy shtick in a way that doesn't make his seem self-absorbed and too cool for the audience. He's certainly the most active and energized in this movie than in any other I've seen him in, and, physically, he's more than able to carry the action scenes.
How will you respond to this movie? Who knows? Do you like being blitzkrieged in your action films? How about profanity and brutal violence? Is that something that gets your action gland secreting? Do you mind if characterization takes a backseat to freight train pacing? If you answer the affirmative to any of these questions, I think you'll have a good time with this film. Though it's not the meditation on evil that Kramer talks about in his commentary track (sorry, there's no room for pop-theodicy when there're pimps that need stabbing), Running Scared is a deliriously off-beat, psycho action flick that, if nothing else, entertains mightily.
The film is presented in a wiggy 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The picture looks great, though be prepared for some intense color levels (a stylistic choice by Kramer). A DTS ES 6.1 track instantly bumps up the sound score, mainly because I invested money into a 6.1 amp and not nearly enough flicks use the mix. DTS 6.1 or no, we're talking an active, in-your-face soundscape. Extras, though limited, are decent. I loved Kramer's commentary as he just goes straight through talking about every angle of his film; it's a very articulate, interesting track. The behind-the-scenes is more-or-less promo-ish, but you get interviews with the major players. Some storyboards and a cool comic book finish off the extras.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
A major twist transpires at the end. It's a jarring turn of events and, in my opinion, satisfactory, but may prove logically problematic for a lot of you. Then again, "logical" is about the 234,567,235th word I'd use as a descriptor for Running Scared, just above "feel-good" and "boring."
I haven't seen anything like Running Scared. It's not for the faint of heart (and not for kids), but those you can survive the full frontal-lobe assault should soundly enjoy themselves. New Line, as usual, delivers a dope DVD.
Not guilty. But where's Jimmy Smits at?
Give us your feedback!
Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
• Director's Commentary
Review content copyright © 2006 David Johnson; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.