Monday, September 12, 2011

Review: "Running Scared" Overdoes it on the Gritty (Happy B'day, Paul Walker)

TRASH IN MY EYE NO. 143 (of 2006) by Leroy Douresseaux

Running Scared (2006)
Running time: 122 minutes (2 hours, 2 minutes)
MPAA – R for pervasive strong brutal violence and language, sexuality, and drug content
PRODUCERS: Michael Pierce, Brett Ratner, and Sammy Lee
EDITOR: Arthur Coburn


Starring: Paul Walker, Cameron Bright, Vera Farmiga, Karel Roden, Johnny Messner, Ivana Milicevic, Chazz Palmiteri, Michael Cudlitz, Arthur Nascarella, and Alex Neuberger

In Grimley, New Jersey, Joey Gazelle (Paul Walker) is a low-level employee for the Italian Perello mob. The first real disaster of his decade-long connection with the Perellos arrives when a drug deal goes bad, and Perello family scion, Tommy “Tombs” Perello (Johnny Messner) kills a dirty cop. Ignoring Tommy’s explicit instructions that he get rid of the gun he used to kill the corrupt cop, Joey keeps it as “insurance” against the Perello mob that he might need in the future, but his decision immediately puts his family in danger.

Joey’s son, Nicky (Alex Neuberger), and his son’s best friend, Oleg (Cameron Bright), are hiding in the basement when Joey hides the weapon, and Oleg secretly steals the gun. Oleg later uses it to shoot his abusive Russian stepfather, Anzor (Karel Roden), a drug-addict who operates a backyard crystal method lab, before running away. That one act of self-defense puts everyone of Oleg’s trail: the Russian Yugorsky mob to whom Anzor belongs, Tommy Perello and his goon, Sal “Gummy Bear” Franzone (Michael Cudlitz), and nefarious Detective Rydell (Chazz Palmiteri), a dirty cop hell-bent on exploiting the tension between the Perellos and Yugorskys to collect two million dollars in blackmail money from Tommy Perello.

Meanwhile, Joey with the help of his wife Teresa (Vera Farmiga) and Nicky embark on a frantic all-night search for Oleg and gun, not only to protect the frightened boy from those who would kill for the gun, but also to save their own lives should the Perellos discover that Oleg has the gun Joey was supposed to destroy.

In the field of gritty urban thrillers, Running Scared, seems determined to out gritty them all. The film is supposed to harken back to days of the 1970’s adult thrillers, according to this film’s writer/director Wayne Kramer (The Cooler). However, Running Scared seems firmly entrenched in the school of Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 seminal crime film that became the most influential film of the rest of the 90’s and still casts a shadow on crime flicks to this day. Running Scared also belongs to the classic Film-Noir tradition of sober and stark black and white crime movies, except it’s in color. Color films like Pulp Fiction technically aren’t noir, but their combination of noir and the pulp crime fiction that was so popular during the middle 20th century has created something that can be called “pulp noir.”

Kramer’s Running Scared is edgy and violent, and obsessed with the extreme fringes of criminal society and the low life. Kramer so convincingly creates this world that he’s also able to turn pretty boy movie star Paul Walker into a cheap, dangerous thug. This is probably Walker’s least superficial performance to date, and that’s say something about an actor who clearly comes from the Kevin Costner/Keanu Reeves school of stiff acting. Kramer also makes the most of promising young actor Cameron Bright (Oleg Yugorsky), who has an emotive face. There’s something about his performance that reflects what the other performers are trying to do. Against Cameron’s character, the other characters reveal their true selves.

Well-written and thrilling, Running Scared does have a singular, fatal flaw – Kramer’s stylish photographic look for this movie. Kramer and his cinematographer, James Whitaker, who worked with Kramer on The Cooler, use elaborate steadicam and crane shots to create constantly moving camerawork. Then, they combine that with manipulation of camera shutter speed, image destabilization, and use of a hand-cranked camera. The entire film is also shot in moody lighting. It’s all supposed to create an atmosphere of menace, adrenaline, and nerve-wracked emotions, yet in the end it just got on my nerves.

These are the kind of artistic or visual choices that can hamstring, if not outright ruin, a good film. Kramer’s has as exciting story, colorful characters, interesting situations, an appealing setting for a crime film, and a plot line that could hold the attention of kid on a sugar high, but it’s mostly spoiled by visual flourishes that are exactly that – just flourishes. They don’t add as much to the storytelling, or at least not as much as Kramer thought they would. It’s a shame, really. Running Scared is a worthy choice for lovers of crime cinema – the razor’s edge in mob flicks. It could have been a contender for greatness…

6 of 10

Sunday, July 02, 2006


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