Grimm's Other Fairy Tale
The director/producer team of Wayne Kramer and Michael Pierce follow their success of 2003's The Cooler with another film they created outside the traditional studio system. They stay their focus on the uglier side of life, but this time they amp up the action with Running Scared, a violent and gritty film that's sleazy, shocking, gory, and oftentimes downright repugnant. But because Kramer and Pierce weren't tied to a studio-mandated formula, they were able to take some creative risks that paid off big, giving the film a refreshingly different feel. It's reminiscent of a '70s-style thriller but with some modern-day tweaks and twinges that call to Robert Rodriguez's Sin City and Tarantino's Kill Bill series. Not as brilliant as either, but nearly as fun to watch.
Paul Walker (Into the Blue) sheds his Cali-kid image and becomes Joey Gazelle, a lower-rung New Jersey mob thug. His charge is to dispose of the guns used by his fellow mobsters. But Joey hasn't been disposing of them properly. Instead he's been hiding them in his basement as an insurance policy just in case the bad guys ever turn on him.
When the abused neighbor kid Oleg (Cameron Bright), steals one of Joey's stashed guns, he heads out into the night disappearing down a rabbit hole and into a seedy world of pimps, hookers, pedophiles, henchman and mobsters. As Joey chases Oleg to fetch the incriminating gun, Kramer gives the ensuing chase a dreamlike aura, complete with obscure references to Grimm's Fairy Tales. Joey and Oleg forge an unlikely bond connected by like experiences of childhood abuse. The film stumbles a bit when it tries too hard to draw these parallels, but not to worry. Kramer never loses his focus and quickly gets things back on track as the pace heightens once again.
Told with a straightforward narrative, Running Scared might have failed miserably. And while Kramer's energetic pacing, and plot implausibilities skirt the edge of over-indulgence, his visual stylings keep things interesting and engaging. Many of today's films get too gimmicky with hand-held camera jerkiness and overused jump cut editing, but Kramer's perfectly executed Fincher-esque camera tricks work perfectly with this kind of story so the viewer is never too far away from the next plot twist or gunshot. Kramer knows this is an action flick and he never pretends it's anything else.
Like a quarterback forcing a pass into double coverage, the filmmakers tried a bit too hard to add one final twist to the end of the film. It feels a little contrived and a bit too improbable, but then again Subtlety has not been one the film's character traits to this point, so why let it take over now?
Running Scared is not for everyone. In fact, I'm probably safe in saying it's not right for you. But for viewers who like violence served up on a filthy platter of testosterone and adrenaline, it brings home the bacon.
(Released by New Line Cinema and rated R for pervasive strong brutal violence and language, sexuality and drug content.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com.)