Running Scared (review)

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Red Blood in Black Light

Running Scared’s total budget: $17 million
• Money saved by casting Paul Walker instead of a real actor: $15 million
• Money saved by shooting in the Czech Republic instead of New Jersey: $20 million
Running Scared, the motion picture: worthless

Okay, so it’s a bad joke. But I’m just aping Running Scared, which actually stops dead in its tracks so a bad guy can taunt someone with a MasterCard-esque “priceless” joke, as if the character he’s taunting can see the things the bad guy is referring to like the audience can, in the little visual asides writer/director Wayne Kramer makes us privy to. It doesn’t even make sense in an oh-my-god-I-can’t-believe-I’m-monologuing way, like The Incredibles’ evildoer Syndrome caught himself doing. It’s purely for the benefit of an unthinking audience that is not interested in watching a film as a coherent whole but as a series of disjointed punchlines and money shots.
I thought we’d reached a new low in pandering to the audience with Final Destination 3, but I was wrong. Kramer has discovered a new apogee of awfulness with this utterly obscene movie, which makes no bones about its own idiocy in its quest to rile the audience up by, say, introducing the most cartoonishly repulsive characters it can conjure out of storytelling thin air so that a character tagged as “good” can blow them away and enjoy doing it. It matters not whether the appearance of those repulsive characters can be achieved only through the most ridiculous coincidence possible — the intended audience is not one that seeks engagement with a lucid story about intriguing characters. The intended audience is one that will whoop and holler when caricatures of evil who have no business appearing in the movie in the first place are dispatched from it.

The extreme badness of Running Scared is a real mystery, because Kramer also wrote and directed the stylish and clever The Cooler. Of course, no one saw The Cooler. so it seems Kramer threw out the cleverness, ramped up the visual stylishness to the point of parody, and let ‘er rip. So we have color washes of sick-yellow and sick-green, a journey through the seedy underbelly of society that encounters every possible hardass and degenerate you can imagine (dirty cops, nasty pimps, a preppy couple into homemade kiddie snuff porn), and the hopelessly bland and unthreatening Paul Walker trying to butch up by shaving his head and screaming things like “I will fuck you up!” a lot. And I mean, a lot. The profanity here is so nonstop, it becomes like a kind of white noise that you cease to hear, that ceases to have any impact. The guys on Deadwood would be like, Enough with the swearing already, sheesh.

The potty-mouthed Walker gets kinda funny after a while, like he’s got no clue how Just Plain Wrong he is in the part of a sympathetic villain, and not even the bit of exculpatory nonsense that rears its ridiculous head toward the end of the film can save Walker from preposterousness. Perhaps only a fluffy kitten in the role would be less believable — though even a kitten has teeth and will use them. Walker (Eight Below, Into the Blue) is Joey Gazelle, a low-level Jersey mafioso (roll that around your tongue for a while — “Paul Walker is a Jersey mafioso” — and see where it gets you), and he’s in big trouble with his goombah bosses because a mob gun that Joey was hiding was stolen by a neighbor kid and used to shoot his Russian mobster stepfather who coincidentally was also involved in some shady business with Joey’s Italian-American variety gangsters, and now Joey has to get the gun back lest all the dirty cops find it first and use it to connect Joey’s crew to the particularly nasty crime that opens the film. Except the neighbor kid, Oleg (the inexplicably creepy Cameron Bright: Birth, Godsend), has freaked out and gone on the run through the land of Bruce Springsteen, which is bizarrely populated only by dirty cops, nasty pimps, a preppy couple into homemade kiddie snuff porn, etc. The bit in which Oleg and a hooker-with-a-heart-of-pyrite hold up an all-night pharmacy so the kid can get some asthma meds might be my favorite bit of absurdity in the film, though it’s got some strong competition from the moment in which someone commits suicide by massive explosion at the very instant Jerry crashes his car into the same locale.

And that’s not even counting the mobsters-turning-on-mobsters sequence at the hockey rink with all the blood on the ice lit by black light, which is supposed to be cool, I guess. Or the tit cam, in the de rigueur scene at the Bada Bing, which is magically drawn to silicone breasts.

The Sopranos it ain’t.

I don’t mean to blame Walker, I really don’t — I’m sure he’s just a sweet dumb kid in way over his head. It’s Kramer’s fault. For casting Walker — the film might have worked in a different kind of over-the-top way with an actor who could make you care about anything at all going on. For forcing the astonishingly good Vera Farmiga (The Manchurian Candidate, 15 Minutes), as Joey’s wife Teresa, to utter some of the worst dialogue ever committed to film — her soliloquy about how her husband is slimy and dodgy but not evil is jaw-droppingly dreadful. For creating something that’s not actually a “film” as we generally consider the term, but merely an excuse to spill blood and beat up on people society is supposed to not object to getting beat up on.

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