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Running Scared (2006)

Depending on your mood, Running Scared (2006) might blow your mind as a full-throttle, hyper-violent, ultra-grim comic-book descent into the unremitting depravity of the soul; alternatively, it could just as easily register as a ridiculously over-cocked aesthetic wankfest drowning in a pool of its own pop-nihilistic vomit. See, Running Scared is both of those things, and if you can stomach its less-effective excesses, the parts of Wayne Kramer's dark thriller that do work provide enough visceral fun to mitigate the embarrassment of enjoying it. Paul Walker stars as Joey Gazelle, a New Jersey mob flunkie ordered to dispose of a pistol used to kill a corrupt cop. However, instead of tossing it into the river, Joey stashes the piece in his basement, where it's easily discovered by his son's asthmatic friend, Oleg (Cameron Bright), who swipes it to shoot his John Wayne-fixated, meth-cooking, Russian-mob-tied abusive stepfather. When Joey discovers what happened, he races across New Jersey to find runaway Oleg and recapture the (apparently uniquely shiny) gun so he can neutralize his error in judgment and protect his family before the two killings are tied together and the mob rubs him out for incompetence. As both Paul and Oleg navigate the seedy and threatening Jersey underworld they run afoul of crackheads, pimps, dealers, whores, gangsters, hockey thugs, and even, in the movie's most audacious (and memorable) sequence, a couple of upper class child pornographers. Writer/director Kramer executes Running Scared with so much dramatic and visual hyperbole that it takes a few scenes simply to adjust to his overbearing vision. Following that initial hurdle, Kramer introduces Joey's and Oleg's tumultuous family lives without a drop in the temperature, replacing gunshots and gore with equally explosive and blubbery dialogue. When Oleg's demented father Anzor (Karel Roden) explains his childhood fascination with "The Duke," it's a near-parody of overwritten, purple movie monologues. Yet, Kramer, who previously wrote and directed the fine 2003 indie drama The Cooler, never plays Running Scared like self-conscious camp, allowing the stone-cool Walker to weigh down the film's flightier flourishes. Kramer's preoccupation with family also helps ground a movie that constantly pulls toward the sensational, and Vera Farmiga is especially good as Paul's wife Theresa, adding empathy by association to a main character she lovingly refers to as "not evil." For all its wild back-and-forth between the cellars of degeneracy, idiocy, sincerity, and schmaltz, Running Scared eventually assumes its own unique rhythm, leading up to a finale so spectacularly gloomy that it achieves a perversely funny melodramatic nirvana. Too bad the movie's deflating coda undercuts all that hard work. Also with Johnny Messner, Ivana Milicevic, and Chazz Palminteri, plus an ear-catching score by Mark Isham. New Line's DVD release presents the film in a solid anamorphic transfer (2.40:1) with audio options in DTS 6.1 ES, Dolby Digital 5.1, and Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround. Kramer gives chat in a fairly comprehensive commentary track, and the disc also includes the featurette "Running Scared: Through the Looking Glass" and storyboard comparisons, plus a graphic novel adaptation of the film in booklet form. Keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr

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