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Running Scared Review

By Shawn McKenzie 02/25/2006

You know what was the first thing that people asked me when I told them that I was going to see Running Scared?  They said, “Oh…is that the movie with Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines?”  No…this movie is nothing like that 1986 action comedy…except for the title (why would I see that movie in a theater anyway?  Is there a 20-year revival that I don’t know about?)  Fortunately, this movie is a graphically violent thrill ride that stars one of my least favorite actors in Hollywood…Paul Walker.

Joey Gazelle (Walker) is a low-level member of the Italian Perello mob syndicate in Grimley, New Jersey.  He works together with Sal “Gummy Bear” Franzone (Michael Cudlitz) for Tommy “Tombs” Perello (Johnny Messner), who is the son of mob head Frankie Perello (Arthur J. Nascarella.)  Following a drug buy that went bad, which resulted in the death of a couple of undercover cops, he is instructed to get rid of a snub-nosed .38 revolver that was used in one of the deaths.  What does Joey do instead?  He puts it in a plastic bag and stashes it in a secret wall panel in the basement of his home.  Unfortunately, his son Nicky (Alex Neuberger) and Nicky’s 10-year-old next-door neighbor friend Oleg Yugorsky (Cameron Bright) see the stashing, and later, Oleg comes back to get the gun.  During dinner that night, Joey, his wife Teresa (Vera Farmiga), Nicky, and Joey’s father (Jan Kohout) are startled when a bullet comes through a window in their house from next door (actually, Pops Gazelle isn’t too startled, because he has mental problems following a beat-down he took in his younger years.)  What happened was that Oleg had shot his abusive stepfather, Anzor (Karel Roden), a John Wayne-loving crystal meth maker who beats Oleg’s mother, a former Russian hooker named Mila (Ivana Milicevic.)  Anzor is the nephew of Ivan Yugorsky (John Noble), the head of the rival Russian Yugorsky mob syndicate.  While Joey rushes over to find out what happened, he sees that Anzor has been shot and that Oleg has taken off.  He goes back to his house and notices that the gun is gone.  By this time, the cops arrive, so Joey tries to find any slugs and find the gun before the cops catch on.  He brings Nicky along to search for Oleg.  Meanwhile, Oleg has a few odd adventures while on the run from people that he believes might hurt him.  After hiding out in an abandoned building that he and Nicky hang out in occasionally, he runs into a hooker named Divina (Idalis DeLeon) and her abusive albino pimp Lester (David Warshofsky.)  As Lester is beating Divina, Oleg points the gun towards him and makes him back off (Divina ends up knocking Lester out though.)  Divina offers to help Oleg refill his prescription inhaler (Oleg has asthma), but Divina gets into an altercation with the pharmacist (Julian Littman.)  Then she takes Oleg to a diner for some food, but the cops arrest them.  A corrupt cop named Detective Rydell (Chazz Palminteri), who wants to get the gun back from Oleg (since the gun might implicate him in the drug buy crime), interrogates the kid.  Anzor picks Oleg up from the police station, but Oleg gets away and hides in the van of a creepy pedophilic couple named Dez (Bruce Altman) and Adele (Elizabeth Mitchell.)  Joey continues of his quest to find both Oleg and the gun, and Teresa has an adventure of her own while rescuing Oleg from Dez and Adele.

This is writer/director Wayne Kramer’s second high profile film (after making two independent films that I’ve never heard of and aren’t even available to rent or purchase.)  The first one was the ultra-cool 2003 movie The Cooler.  This movie is visually more stylish and fast-paced (and bloody) than The Cooler.  The fast-paced action kind of reminded me of the visuals you see every week on NBC’s “Las Vegas.”  He also does a disturbing fairy tale-like story structure with the scene involving the pedophilic couple (you see them appear as monsters around a silhouette wall.)

Now…how can I actually recommend a Paul Walker movie?  It’s because the visuals, the cool story, and the acting by everyone else in the cast that is good.  This is probably Walker’s best performance of his career, but he still manages to be the worst part of any movie that features him (he tends to have only one look on his face all the time.)  His Jersey accent is so forced and fake that it gets irritating after a while.  The good thing is that he isn’t the dominating character here.  It’s not that this movie has a large cast…but the supporting characters get their fair share of screen time.  Farmiga manages to be sexy and tough (almost tougher than Walker) when she is fighting what she calls “evil.”  Bright out-acts Walker (not a tough thing to do…the sled dogs from Walker’s Eight Below last week out-acted him), but he doesn’t seem to express shock or sadness when tragic things happen right in front of him (maybe his character is just used to violence, having been abused all of his life.)

Running Scared might not be everyone’s taste.  The violence is very graphic, so if you have a weak stomach, you may want to avoid this film (basically, it has gory horror movie violence.)  Also, if you are sensitive to foul language, this movie lays it on thick.  According to ScreenIt.com, there are at least 315 uses of the “f” word, and many uses of the “n” word uttered by white guys to other white guys (something that my fellow critic colleague Reggie McDaniel found bothersome.)  If those things don’t bother you, and you can tolerate Walker, I highly recommend the movie.  Seeing a good Walker movie is like seeing a good Richard Gere movie…it’s good despite the actor.  Kramer is on my watch list for up-and-coming directors…and as long as he doesn’t mess up his third movie…I won’t be running scared from the theater.


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