Pulling Up Lame

Washington City Paper | March 3, 2006
How bad is Running Scared? Let’s just say that Paul Walker is the best thing about it. He plays Joey Gazelle (!), some kind of Jersey sleazebag who needs to hide a gun that one of his henchmen used to shoot a cop. Joey’s 10-year-old son, Nicky (Alex Neuberger), is in the basement with his friend from next door, Oleg (Cameron Bright), when Joey runs downstairs to stash the incriminating weapon. Later, there’s a shot down the street, and Oleg’s Russian stepfather, Anzor (Karel Roden)—who, by the way, is obsessed with a John Wayne movie he was shown part of as a child; he now watches it over and over pleading of the TV that his hero not be killed this time—has taken a bullet. All signs point to Oleg. One of them is that in a previous scene, he says to Anzor, “John Wayne is a faggot!” But neither the kid nor the gun can be found.

What ensues is an endless treasure hunt that involves a lot of nasty, bloody murders. Kramer, who wrote last year’s despicable Mindhunters but was also responsible for directing and writing 2003’s rather enjoyable The Cooler, shoots all the action in a headache-inducing, Domino-esque combo of flashes, quick cuts, and constant movement whose purpose seems to be to keep the audience impressed (allegedly) and confused (definitely). And as if the onslaught of poorly identified bad guys weren’t enough, Kramer throws in two ridiculous supernumeraries: a hooker who’s beaten by her pimp and then lets Oleg wander around with her for a while, and a pair of pedophiles whose pedophiling van Oleg happens to climb into when trying to escape...someone.

These unnamed folks are apparently the Martha Stewarts of molesters, though, acting like Mr. and Mrs. Sunshine and bringing their roundup of kids to an impressive playhouse in their beautiful home. Costumes and DVDs clearly labeled with other children’s names are in the closet. So is a stash of what are actually labeled “small body bag”s. Give these sickos props for organization! (And if you haven’t figured it out, this bit of depravity has nothing to do with the rest of the movie, besides keeping Oleg MIA for a bit longer.)

A scene in which some thugs drag Joey to a blacklighted hockey rink and let a lone player simultaneously practice his slap shot and break Joey’s face could have added both cleverness and menace, but the logorrheic spew of “fuck”s makes the sequence too ludicrous to be taken seriously. Just like the movie’s star, whose tough-guy act is tolerable—until you notice that Chazz Palminteri has a small role in Running Scared, as well. Then you start thinking about the possibility that Walker is being groomed to be the go-to outlaw that Palminteri once was—which is more preposterous and horrifying than anything else here.

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