February 27, 2006

Movie Review: Running Scared (2006)

Any film that stars Paul Walker is dangerous proposition. In my experience, he is not a terribly talented actor, hired more for his looks than his ability. That said, he does a fine job of inhabiting our reactionary hero in Running Scared. The film is so deliriously over the top that the plot becomes secondary to the free flowing insanity on tap.

The story follows a missing gun and the extreme measures used in an attempt to regain its possession, not to mention the occasional side trip, that is peripherally related to the primary objective. Paul Walker is Joey Gazelle, a family man who happens to run with a dangerous crowd. The gun in question comes into Joey's hands after it is used to kill a cop during a drug deal gone bad. It is up to Joey to get rid of it, so what does he do? He doesn't throw it in the river, bags it and places it behind a hidden panel in the basement, with an assortment of other neatly placed sidearms. Unfortunately, Joey's son, Nicky, and his best friend Oleg are witness to this placement.

That proves to be the impetus for the following ensuing drama. You see, Oleg is abused by his stepfather, a Russian immigrant with an obsession with John Wayne's The Cowboys, so he steals the gun and shoots the root of his problems. Oleg then hits the streets, which in turn sets of a series of events which take this gun through a number of different hands. Joey follows all the clues, while deflecting inquiries from his boss and from the cops looking to take Joey and his boss down.

The plot is simplistic on the surface, it is the manner in which everything plays out that make this film so much fun. When you walk into this, you must check reality at the door. Do not go in to expecting realism on any level. Running Scared blasts through the reality barrier to take you on a ride through a night in the life of an increasingly desperate man.

The movie has some great character moments liberally sprinkled through its running time. A lot of this stuff probably could have been edited out, but it would have taken so much flavor along with it. The scenes with the pimp are a riot, and the scene with the perverts will not be forgotten, especially not when the hero's wife wears a hat not usually worn by the this character type. Take these side scenes, combine them with the face offs over the missing gun, and you have a film that will have you glued to the screen.

Wayne Kramer directs, based on his own script, his last directorial effort was the excellent The Cooler. He brings an in your face style, full of inventive camera/special effects flourishes, all adding to a film that satisfies visually and mentally. He coaxes some fine performances, which are more reactionary in nature than than thought out complete performances. This is sort of like wind up figures, you turn the crank as far as it will go, let go, and watch them go. When they reach an obstacle, they either fall over, or get turned in another direction.

The only real problem I had was with the ending, which seems to fall into place a little too quickly. I could have used a slightly more protracted epilogue to more cleanly close the open threads. Plus, there is a quick mention of a fact that would have made the whole point of the movie moot, if you blink you'll miss it. Despite that the movie comes together and works in that realm of the unbelievable.

Bottomline. The gun is a wonderful catalyst for the inspired orchestra of frenzied craziness. This film exists in its own universe, it does not play by the same rules that we do. Running Scared is a blast of pure adrenaline. A wild ride where you can ignore potential plot threatening holes in order to stay on the ride a little bit longer. Don't be Scared, go out and get on the ride.

Highly Recommended. ***.5 / *****

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