Running scared? You will be.
Given how bad a year we had last year at the cinema and the studio exec's subsequent promise of "quality over quantity!", you'd think 2006 would be the epitome of stringent value control. How unfortunate then that we should begin January with this pile of cack rather suspiciously resembling a direct-to-video affair that somehow snuck in under the radar. Those of you who shrewdly subscribe to the Paul Walker Rule Of Thumb need only know that this carries all the requisite seals of quality and need not read any further. For those of you who thought The Fast And The Furious was, like, so totally amazing, I shall continue solely for your benefit if not, I fear, your salvation.
Walker plays Joey Gazelle (yes, Gazelle), a bottom-feeding mob runabout whose sole purpose is to back his master Tomy Perello (Johnny Messner) up in gunfights and dispose of the hot weapons afterwards. Joey does this not by smelting them nor throwing them in the river. Oh no. Joey, remember, is Paul Walker. Silly Paul...sorry, Joey "disposes" of the guns by hiding them in a basement wall recess so thinly disguised he'd be safer laying the guns on the floor and painting them the same colour as his carpet. No surprises then when his young son Nicky (Alex Neuberger) and Russian immigrant friend Oleg Yugorsky (Cameron Bright) happen on the stash; a discovery that prompts Oleg to take a nice shiny revolver used to smoke some dirty cops and use it to shoot his abusive father. D'oh! The young would-be assassin then does a runner with the piece and leaves Joey in a bit of a tizz, caught between a corrupt cop and a Russian hard case.
What follows is a resolutely third rate chase movie-cum-gangster flick that has designs on Reservoir Dogs but most definitely ends up both dastardly and mutt-ly. There are reams of unnecessary violence and foul language, but to be fair I've seen and heard worse. Running Scared's crime is to lash on the headshots and expletives in an attempt to paper over the most shoddy of foundations. As Joey pursues the lost gun across the twilight jungle of the city, all the time dodging the Russians and the cops, his wife Teresa (Vera Farmiga) tracks down Oleg who himself becomes embroiled in more unlikely subplots than even series two of 24 managed to throw at Kim Bauer. It's certainly all conducted at a breakneck pace but again this is more a function of camouflage than theatrical benefit.
Essential to a quality movie before anything else gets considered is, of course, a quality script. Running Scared does not have a quality script. To be fair there are odd flashes of humour here and there both intentional (the Mastercard "priceless" gag) and unintentional ("I'm a mack-daddy pimp!" deadpans a very dogged, very white gentleman in a horrendous white fur jacket), but it's so sparsely scattered throughout the ludicrously elongated runtime that it offers no respite from the teeth-gnashing drudgery of it all. The players may all be uniformly pap (the always reliable Chazz Palminteri escapes with least scars), but in defence of even Paul Walker it's hard to expect any cast to polish such a fragrant turd of a script. There's too much shouting, too much pompous wannabe-hard gangster crack and far too little engagement or character development to offer any kind of reward, and quite frankly I'm past the age where stylised brutality takes up any of the slack.
As lax a piece of literature as the script represents it's writer/director Wayne "Mindhunters" Kramer's work behind the camera that physically sickens the most. Clearly purchasing his acid from the same supplier as Tony Scott, Kramer never seems content unless he's beating the Avid editing machine with a stick and pouring syrup in it's workings. Every damn minute assails us with freeze frames, rewinds and anarchic crash-zooms leading to alternate event takes that gives even Domino a run for it's money. Here more than ever I was looking forward to the end credits, not just because the sheer turgidity of everything was rendering me suicidal, but also because the simplicity of white text on black background felt like a holiday in the Bahamas for my eyes. If you are reading, Mr. Kramer, let me remind you that inducing involuntary synaptic electrical storms in your audience is not a substitute for sitting down to write a good script with events and characters who don't need a stylistic fireworks display of editing to disguise their lack of dimension.
Mind you, presumably Kramer knows this; he did after all give us 2003's well-received The Cooler. Quite how you go from Mindhunters to that to this beggars belief. All we can do is hope that, based on this brief career sample, his next effort turns out to be Citizen Kane 2. I shouldn't keep my fingers crossed, though. By this point my hope is you'll have lost enough interest that I needn't tear apart the appearance of junkie Latino mechanics, a middle-age paedophile couple and assorted other abominations who serve only to populate an already bloated story with even more moronic padding. I assume Kramer was attempting a hybrid between Reservoir Dogs and Magnolia, but the abortive end result is a dog of a different kind and offers as much excitement as the latter in an interior gloss finish. Bereft of any caring I draw a close to this review.
I award this movie 1 out of 5 Worthiness units.
Chazz Palminteri (Detective Rydell)
Cameron Bright (Oleg Yugorsky)
Vera Farmiga (Teresa Gazelle)