March 2, 2006

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Running Scared (R)
reviewed by Amy Diaz

Blood decorates every scene of the frenetic, choppy Valentine’s Day card to violence for violence’s sake that is Running Scared, a film starring Cameron Bright (the unsettling moon-faced child from Godsend and Birth) and Paul Walker, a glutton for movie punishment.

Paul Walker will do absolutely anything to keep working. He took a back seat to the dog characters in Eight Below. He appeared in both Highway to Heaven and Touched by an Angel in his youth. He played Joshua “Pacey” Jackson’s fraternity brother (which, I still contend, was actually code for “love interest”) in the cheesily awful The Skulls. Here, he allows hockey pucks to be shot directly at his face and, while, yes, I realize it’s just a stunt, you never know when something like that can go wrong and leave an actor with serious dental bills.

All this willful suffering is even more entertaining because Walker nonetheless continues to “act” his little B-list heart out. Where an actor with more ego would simply kick back and contentedly nosh on the scenery, Walker seems to dig deep, to put great (and probably unnecessary) effort into really, you know, understanding the low-level mob guy. He wants to know what makes him tick.

In the particular case of Running Scared, Walker’s Joey is motivated mainly by the desire not to be killed. Joey whose occupation might be best described as “professional muscle” or even just “guy.” He is a guy who attends drug deals and other such activities with various mobsters and appears to just fill out the room. Occasionally, he’s called upon to shoot at the guys shooting at his boss, as he does when early in the movie he shoots at robbers who are sticking up a drug deal between members of Joey’s mob and some other group of ne’er-do-wells. Or he’ll be asked to get rid of a gun used in a murder, such as the murder of one of the robbers who, as it turns out, was also a police officer in his spare time. Joey, however, is a forward-thinking type of low-level criminal. Instead of destroying the hot guns, he saves them in a hiding space in his basement as insurance against a time when he might have to turn on his bosses. But while Joey’s forward-thinking, he’s not terribly thorough in checking out the basement to make sure it is empty before he opens up the secret wall panel. His son Nicky (Alex Neuberger) and his son’s creepy friend Oleg (Bright) are hiding behind some boxes and get a good look at the gun pile. Such a collection of weaponry would be a magnet for any boy but especially for the creepy stepson of an abusive, crazy, meth-making stepfather (Karl Roden). For Oleg, the guns look like an answer to all his parental problems.

While Joey’s family sits down for dinner, Oleg goes next door, endures all sorts of lunacy from his stepfather and then shoots him in the shoulder when the paterfamilias starts to smack around Oleg’s mom (Ivana Milicevi). The “what the hell” look on Joey’s face when one of those bullets comes whizzing through his family’s dining room window turns into an “oh, crap” look when he realizes that (a) the bullet came from one of his guns, (b) specifically the one that just a few hours earlier killed a cop, (c) the cops are now coming and likely to find at least one of the several bullets that didn’t go into Oleg’s dad and (d)
Oleg is now on the run with the incriminating weapon.

Thusly Joey sets out in search of Oleg and the gun. Should the gun fall into the wrong hands, it could get Joey’s mob bosses in trouble with the police and Joey in trouble with the mob bosses. Should Oleg fall into the wrong hands, it could get him dead, because in addition to being a lunatic meth-dealer, Oleg’s stepfather is also nephew to the leader of the Russian mob.

So many violent and improbable things happen to Oleg and Joey during their movie-long chase that I wouldn’t be surprised if, near the end, one of them sought refuge in a church only to be machine gunned by a bunch of nuns (it doesn’t happen, but trust me, it wouldn’t be that far-fetched in terms of this movie). Each person young Oleg meets as he travels the streets of All-Mob-Town, New Jersey, is more evil and bloodthirsty than the next. The joke of the movie is that Oleg turns out to be a tougher kid than most of those that attempt to hurt him.

With its goofy story (the ending pretty much negates the motivation for everything that happens in the film), terrifically hammy acting, bizarre editing (flashbacks happen off to the side of the character as he is remembering/ hearing about the events; occasionally, jump cuts bring us in tight on a character’s face, jump out and then bring us back in again for no apparent reason) and gallons of stage blood punctuating every few minutes, Running Scared is indeed a thoroughly awful movie.

But, like movie theater nachos, sometimes that much awfulness can be awfully enjoyable.

C

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