Running Scared

on June 27, 1986 by Mark Keizer
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A reprehensible attempt to bring the violence and cruelty of the Grand Theft Auto videogame series to the multiplex, "Running Scared" is one of the most repugnant movies ever targeted to a youth audience. Writer/director Wayne Kramer, who has forever destroyed the memory of directing the Oscar-nominated "The Cooler," takes the blame for this rancid stew of hookers, pimps, mobsters and child murderers. Granted, there have been many good films featuring hookers, pimps, mobsters and even child murderers. But this movie has no interest in anything but carnage: how to block it, how to shoot it, how to edit it. It's an experience that gets increasingly unpleasant, until one begins to wonder why this movie was made.

Joey Gazelle (Paul Walker) is a low-level mobster living with his wife Teresa (Vera Farmiga) and son Nicky (Alex Neuberger) in a New Jersey populated by foul-mouthed harlots and sleazy reprobates. We meet Joey in the middle of a drug deal gone south, a ballet of bullets (staged by Kramer with all the empty cinematic tricks money can buy) where corrupt cops get shot in the testicles and everyone talks as if they attended Scarface High.

Joey's post-carnage responsibility is to dispose of the gun used in the shootout. Instead of immediately ridding himself of the incriminating weaponry, he stashes it in his basement. Young Nicky's best friend Oleg (Cameron Bright from "Birth") steals the gun and uses it to plug his scumbag Russian stepfather (a snarling Karel Roden), who regularly abuses his suicidal mother. After the shooting, Oleg takes the gun and disappears. Joey then spends the long New Jersey night tracking down the boy and his stolen snub-nose before a variety of unsavory stereotypes, including Russian and Italian mobsters and dirty cop Chazz Palminteri, can find them.

To the executives at New Line who greenlit such proudly vicious hackwork: Did you congratulate yourselves after the scene in which a hooker's face is smashed into a car headlight by a self-described "mack daddy pimp"? Did champagne corks pop after the bizarre detour where Oleg is imprisoned by a child-torturing husband and wife? Were there high-fives all around every time the pre-teen Oleg had a gun pointed at his head or when he witnessed his father being shot? Brutality and bloodshed are hardly new to the movies, but never have they been employed so casually, copiously and with no thematic or moral purpose, unlike the films of Quentin Tarantino and other maestros of mayhem whose directorial vision doesn't stop with sadism.

There's a sickening feeling that Kramer believes he has created the coolest film in the world, one that will make him a hero to audiences that believe nonstop butchery, like, totally rulz. But if there's any justice, the movie will destroy Kramer's career, resulting in less lucrative employment directing snuff films and "Girls Gone Wild" videos. Employing a level of visual flash that makes any Tony Scott movie look like Alfred Hitchcock's "Rope," Kramer is only interested in being stylistically obnoxious, for which thankfully the Academy does not award Oscars. Not that it matters, but all the actors perform at operatic levels of menace, with Paul Walker scruffing himself up in a transparent attempt to look tough.

"Running Scared" will probably play best in prisons, where lowlifes, applauding the heroic amounts of foul language and blood, will be heartened to know that society has finally stooped to their level. General audiences wandering in from the February cold will be subjected to two hours of distasteful and pointless trash. Starring Paul Walker, Cameron Bright and Vera Farmiga. Directed and written by Wayne Kramer. Produced by Michael Pierce, Brett Ratner and Sammy Lee. A New Line release. Drama. Rated R for pervasive strong brutal violence and language, sexuality and drug content. Running time: 119 mi

Tags: Starring Paul Walker, Cameron Bright, Vera Farmiga, Directed and written by Wayne Kramer, Produced by Michael Pierce, Brett Ratner, Sammy Lee, New Line, Drama
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