Running Scared [DVD]
Director : Wayne Kramer
Screenplay : Wayne Kramer
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2006
Stars : Paul Walker (Joey Gazelle), Cameron Bright (Oleg Yugorsky), Vera Farmiga (Teresa Gazelle), Karel Roden (Anzor Yugorsky), Johnny Messner (Tommy Perello), Ivana Milicevic (Mila), Chazz Palminteri (Detective Rydell), Alex Neuberger (Nicky Gazelle), Michael Cudlitz (Sal Franzone), Bruce Altman (Dez), Elizabeth Mitchell (Edele), Arthur Nascarella (Perello), John Noble (Ivan Yugorsky), Idalis DeLeon (Divina), David Warshofsky (Pimp Lester)
In Running Scared, writer/director Wayne Kramer drags his audience--some of whom will likely be running scared themselves--through the grungy underbelly of a nightmarish criminal underworld. Kramer has gone on record as saying that he was purposefully trying to invoke the gritty world of '70s crime movies, and he definitely nails the grit, to the rather ostentatious point of rubbing the audience's nose in it.
What he misses, however, is the connection to reality that defined the movies that served as his inspiration. Running Scared is a whacked-out criminal fantasy, and to some extent Kramer telegraphs this not only with his graphic-novel inspired opening credits, but also with the film's overblown stylistic bombast. While not nearly as mind-numbingly grating as the recent work of Tony Scott (Man on Fire, Domino), Running Scared has much more in common aesthetically with a music video than any films directed by Martin Scorsese or William Friedkin.
Karmer's baroque, meandering narrative revolves around a missing gun that links the lives of mob bosses, corrupt cops, pimps, hookers, and even a pair of malicious pedophiles who look like they walked out of a version of Leave It to Beaver staged in hell. Paul Walker stars as Joey Gazelle, a low-level New Jersey mob enforcer whose job is to dispose of guns used in hits. Early in the film he is taxed with the responsibility of getting rid of a particular snub nose that was used in a drug-deal-gone-bad that killed several dirty cops.
In the first of the story's many, many twists, the gun is stolen by Oleg Yugorsky (Cameron Bright), Joey's tormented 11-year-old neighbor and his son's best friend. Oleg uses the gun to shoot his abusive father-in-law, a brooding, John Wayne-obsessed Russian meth dealer named Anzor (Karel Roden). This sends Joey out on an all-night odyssey to reclaim not only the gun itself, which will switch hands numerous times, but also any of the slugs that have been fired from its barrel. In a sense, the entire story is a race against time, with Joey trying to stay one step ahead of both the police, who will use the ballistics evidence to convict his mob associates, and the mob associates themselves, who will be mighty angry if they discover his carelessness.
The whole ordeal might have some emotional punch if Joey were a more interesting character. Walker imbues Joey with plenty of anger, fear, and resolve, but he never registers as anything more than an oddly good-looking thug. It's a strong reminder of how the best crime movies--ranging from the more serious and realistically minded works of Scorsese, to the grandiose pop-opera of Coppola, to the sublimely absurd films of Tarantino--work because we are invested in the characters. We don't always like them as people, but we find them fascinating--compelling, even. Joey is a dull cipher by comparison, and all the other characters are grotesque cartoons. The closest the movie gets to achieving memorable characterization is Joey's tough wife, Teresa (Vera Farmiga), who begins the film as a blank supporting player but slowly steps into her own. Her emotional reactions to various situations carry a level of gut-punching power that overshadows Joey's frantic pursuit of the gun.
Stylistically, Running Scared is a typical postmodern mismash of hyperkinetic visuals and ornate editing. Kramer stages each violent encounter as its own uniquely bizarre setpiece. The two most memorable moments are Oleg's entrapment in the frighteningly bright, candy-colored apartment of the two pedophiles, who stand in as the movie's portraits of true evil (there is even an unexplained recurring shadow on the bathroom wall that suggests a demonic presence lurking about), and a showdown in a hockey rink made surreal by overhead blacklights. Kramer pours on the violence with sadistic glee, but it's always so over-stylized that it never really registers beyond the level of comic book mayhem (the lack of identification with the characters also deflates it).
Running Scared certainly has its moments, but as it whole it constantly feels strained at the seams. In fact, the movie made almost no sense to me outside of its constituent parts until I read that Kramer intended it to reflect that twisted world of a Grimms' fairy tale, with each opulently bizarre character (including a white-clad Mad Hatter pimp and a blue-fairy prostitute) reflecting a fantastical archetype. Viewed from this perspective, Running Scared comes fleetingly close to coherence, but not close enough to matter.
|Running Scared DVD|
|Distributor||New Line Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||June 6, 2006|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|Running Scared's anamorphic widescreen image is excellent all around. This is a highly stylized film with a broad range of visual schemes, ranging from the dark, dingy, urine-stained colors (in the director's words) of the opening motel room shoot-out, to the bright, shadowless world of the pedophiles' apartment, to the blue-tinted hockey rink sequence. The transfer is spot on with all of these scenes, resulting in a rich, clean, high-contrast image. The sound mixes are equally strong, especially the DTS 6.1 surround track, which is aggressive and enveloping.|
|Wayne Kramer has a lot to say about his film in his screen-specific audio commentary, and he rarely if ever lets up. His commentary is extremely informative and thorough, although I sometimes tended to get the feeling that he thinks a little too highly of himself and his accomplishments. That said, though, listening to his take on the film made it a more interesting viewing experience the second time around. Kramer is also heavily present in the half-hour making of featurette "Through the Looking Glass," which also includes interviews with all the major cast members and one of the film's producers. Kramer's personally hand-drawn storyboards for the motel room shoot-out and the hockey rink shoot-out can be viewed in direct comparison to the resulting sequence, illustrating just how thoroughly he planned his shots. Also included on the disc is the film's original theatrical trailer, and the case includes an insert graphic novel adaptation of the hockey rink sequence.|
Copyright © 2006 James Kendrick
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All images copyright © New Line Home Entertainment