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Running Scared
cast: Paul Walker, Chazz Palminteri, Vera Farmiga, Cameron Bright, and Alex Neuberger

director: Wayne Kramer

121 minutes (18) 2005
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
EIV DVD Region 2 rental / retail

RATING: 10/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
Recently I caught up with Clark Johnson's S.W.A.T, the big screen adaptation of the tacky 1970s' little screen series. The big hullabaloo around the original television show was that it was relatively violent for American television of the time, and Christian moralists campaigned against the series and others as too brutal or too sexy, and the late Robert Urich must have figured that they really had it in for him as Vegas and Soap (in which he appeared only in the opening episode) where also on their hit list. The major movie remake may have been aiming for irony in that it delivered a film that maintained those 1970s' boundaries. Bullets rained and things exploded but no innocents were killed, nor even injured. Villains are hit by bullets but no squibs burst. They may as well have been packed by straw. A pretty young blonde flashes the handsome billionaire baddie but her back is to the camera. As unbelievable as it all is, it gets worse, nobody cusses beyond a token "Shit!" when Colin Farrell is the star of the film. The film however does have a great high-concept to run with. The handsome billionaire nasty bastard is caught on camera in transit to the cells and takes advantage of the media to advertise a backwards bounty of $100 million to anyone who can spring him. Fantastic, chaos is predicted, the city turned to hell. But this is a 'PG' film and the offer is on the table only at the halfway point. You exit the film disappointed, imagining what extreme fun could have been engaged had William Friedkin or Paul Verhoeven had been handed the idea. Soon after I watch The Assassination Bureau, another great idea, blandly and un-funnily trotted out by Basil Dearden and think of what Richard Lester could have done with it.

Wayne Kramer's Running Scared doesn't even have a high concept. Though the story winds and skids madly it never really gives us anything truly novel in the way of twists. It doesn't need to. It embraces its exploitation genre status unabashedly and goes out to entertain. Running Scared is lunatic nonsense but immensely enjoyable on first experience. The film opens with a shot of hoodlum Joey Gazelle (Paul Walker) carrying the dazed and bloodied child Oleg (Cameron Bright) to the car telling him to "Hold on! Hang in there!" This is the end of the adventure, and we zip back 18 hours (reminding me of the opening of Tony Williams' Next Of Kin) and a drugs' transaction is seen to go violently wrong. And I mean violently. Nothing PG-rated about this and, in a day when we can flick channels to fall upon any number of CSI series' detectives crouching over a corpse with a nail file in the eye and brain, you realise that there is still a limit to what can be gotten away with on those incredulous hit series. In one room a lot of bloody action ensues crucially edited to maximum effect. I yelped and squirmed and likely uttered the odd unfinished exclamation. Much later in the film there is a showdown on the ice-hockey rink that is as equally berserk and effective. Kramer dedicates the film to Sam Peckinpah, Brian De Palma and Walter Hill. There is something of the otherworldliness of the long night and its players in The Warriors but other films evoked are Scorsese's After Hours, Stephen Hopkins' cult action film Judgement Night or Gary Nelson's Vice Squad and Robert Vincent O'Neill's Angel, two popular early 1980s' video rental titles. The story moves from one mad episode to another, but this time with unabashed violence and a bold dash of evil.

The deal ends up with a wrong cop or two dead and Joey is instructed to dispose of the gun. His son Nicky (Dan Neumeyer) and the Oleg, the boy that neighbours them, see him hide the guns in the cellar and Oleg sneaks back to arm himself against his brutal father, Anzor (Karel Roden) who he shortly after shoots in the shoulder. The boy goes on the run with Joey, his pissed off gangster mates, the police, even the rival Russian mobsters interested in his whereabouts. During the night a merry dance of terror and death is played out, first Joey and his son in pursuit of the boy, then Joey in pursuit of the gun. Characters are continually called into action and as Oleg falls into the hands of a paedophile couple, trapped in their apartment it is Mrs Gazelle (Vera Farmiga) who is pedal to the metal to his rescue. Too much happens for me to adequately account for it in a paragraph or two. There are a couple of dozen bodies at the end of two hours and several twists that are so old that they are normally unforgivable, but here, you are hardly given the time to see them coming. Even when the final soft revelation comes and you can groan, it is immediately followed by a barmy animated closing credits sequence that delights as it recounts the film just gone in terms of a Grimms' fairy tale, and you forgive it again.

This is the intention of the director that the twilight world of crooked New Jersey is a fairy tale nightmare place of human monsters that terrorise children, gangster trolls and infant murdering paedophile witches. This message fails to transmit until the closing titles nudge. Not that the introduction in the opening titles and prevalence of the theme helped Confessions Of A Trickbaby. The motif may only have interfered with Running Scared. I have only provided you with the main points but there are shocking details that sting like a jellyfish. When finally cornered, Mrs Gazelle rifles through the cosy pie couple's wardrobe while she has the monstrous two at gunpoint appalled at the sickness of it all, and amongst the children's clothes discovers an unused child-size body bag on one of the hangers. It is a one of the most chilling moments in a film of recent years. How did a Hollywood movie do this, without a single obvious product placement or phoney looking 15 rating? It didn't. Essential location footage is done in New York and New Jersey but this is a German and US co-production and the big chunks of it would appear to be shot in Prague to add to the offset feel.

Running Scared may not live up to repeat viewings, then again it may do. It stands judged on its qualities as a first viewing experience. Thrilling, exciting, shocking, funny, Running Scared entertained to heck.
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