A few days ago, out here in the middle of nowhere (i.e., Ithaca, New York, a progressive utopia surrounded by hours and hours of 19th-century America), I enlisted the services of one D.O. — backwoods hillbillian extraordinaire — to empty my garage of its decayed, cardboard contents, an event that doesn’t make for a particularly fine story except for the fact that this toothless, 300-pound behemoth of a man, upon learning that I am a bar-certified attorney, took the opportunity to apprise me of one of his most recent run-ins with the law, a prosecution that came about after he manhandled his foster child. As D.O. told it, he “stunned” the legal community by hiring himself a “lesbian lawyer” to handle his defense, which prompted this eloquence: “I ain’t got nothing against gays or lesbians, especially them lesbos. ‘Cause the fact of the matter is, me and the lesbians got something in common: We both like to eat pussy.”
And, repugnant as it was to have a character from Deliverance impart to me his dining habits, it was not the most uncomfortable cunnilingus-related experience I’ve had this week, which actually came in the form of Running Scared’s online marketing strategy: A video game that features the back of Paul Walker’s skull plunging headlong into a sea of his wife’s triangle, the aim of which is to eat her to fruition and presumably gain the hetero-accolades of your frat brothers or fellow gang members (link intentionally absent to save Pajiba’s traffic from clicking away en masse).
Well, congratulations, New Line Cinema, for sinking to even lower depths than the child-beating, tick-picking, sister-breeding homophobe who managed to sully my already unkempt parking space. Indeed, for once in the history of the motion picture, Paul Walker actually elevates a cinematic experience, though it’s not hard to rise above a morass of absurdist violence, misogyny, and racial stereotypes that owes most of its inspiration to the already derivative hackwork of the brilliantly addle-brained Tony Scott.
Cultural and sexual issues aside, however, Running Scared still has an abundance of imbecility to spare. The narrative follows the dogged shenanigans of Joey Gazelle (Paul Walker) a low-level mobster from New Jersey (here played mostly by Prague). In the opening scenes, Gazelle and his cadre of jackass Mafiosi get involved in a shooting spree and end up taking out a dirty cop, a detail that they are much more concerned about than the fact that they’ve shot and killed eight or nine other folks and lost a number of their own. Still, it is Joey’s responsibility to dispose of the cop-killing gat, a task that he quickly bungles when the neighbor kid thieves it and shoots his Russian pa, who had threatened to abuse him for calling John Wayne a “faggot.”
It is up to Joey to track down that goddamn gun before either the cops or his gangster brethren find it and undo the fine premise that Wayne Kramer has so adeptly put in place. So, we follow the pistol from little 10-year-old Oleg (Cameron Bright) to a drug dealer who hides his stash in an overflowing toilet; to a white-suited pimp who beats his prostitute with a textbook for trying to get a GED; to a Hispanic janitor who loses it in a poker game; to a mechanic with blowtorch issues; to Momma and Papa Bear pedophiles who kidnap, molest, and then kill children for sex videos; and finally back to the hands of the pimp, who might consider a career in guidance counseling if he makes it out of this film alive (he doesn’t).
Through it all, Kramer imbues his film with all the urban grittiness of a “That 70’s Show” dope circle, without any of the television program’s skillful camerawork. You might argue, in fact, that Running Scared is the very first nihilistic crime caper for the bubble-gum set; it is so chockfull of inane, comic-strip carnage that only an indolent teeny-bopper with an unhealthy obsession with “Grand Theft Auto” could find it arresting. Granted, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m dorkishly fond of gratuitous bloodshed if it’s done imaginatively (see, for instance, Tony Scott’s one noteworthy directorial contribution True Romance), but Kramer’s attempts at stylized violence end up looking like the B-reel from a bad Guy Ritchie film without any of Ritchie’s faint sense of irony. And when Kramer is not dulling your senses with his weird brand of two-dimensional Disney-inspired blood and mayhem, he resorts to melodramatic speechifying, which largely consists of men with stubble holding guns and righteously yelling about ethnocentrism or the importance of loyalty before breaking into bad parodies of MasterCard commercials that end, pricelessly, in the death of a police officer. Running Scared is exactly the kind of movie that, failing to find an adequate way to tie up all its loose ends, opts to kill everyone and hope that the audience mistakes despondency for art. Unfortunately, not even the studio has that much confidence in Kramer’s vision, so we are left with an obviously tacked-on “happy” ending that makes absolutely no fucking sense. Fantastic.
Still and all, I have to reluctantly recommend Running Scared despite its illogical narrative, its moronic violence, and its feebleminded direction, simply because the storyline ends with one of the most insanely preposterous, wake-up-with-blue-hair unbelievable, shit-yourself, you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me twists that I’ve ever been privy to in all of my cinematic dealings. For sure, the trick ending is neither creative nor original, but it is so completely absurd and out of left field that it’s hard not to be completely awed by Kramer’s over-the-top, balls-out audacity. Indeed, his ill-conceived, harebrained twist is akin to seeing E.T. reluctantly agree to ride back to his alien family only to watch as a deranged gunman jumps out of the bushes and shoots him in between the eyes as he is mounting his bicycle. Depending on how you view it, the end of Running Scared is either that good or that bad.
Me, I like to see the glass half full.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba and managing partner of its parent company, which prefers to remain anonymous for reasons pertaining to public relations. He lives in Ithaca, New York.Running Scared / Dustin Rowles
Film | May 12, 2006 | Comments ()