Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 2 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Pervasive Strong Brutal Violence and Language, Sexuality and Drug Content
Directed by: Wayne Kramer
Written by: Wayne Kramer
Starring: Paul Walker, Cameron Bright, Vera Farmiga, Chazz Palminteri, Karel Roden, Johnny Messner, Ivana Milicevic, Michael Cudlitz, Bruce Altman & Elizabeth Mitchell
Paul Walker is mostly known for his part in the FAST AND FURIOUS series, but he had a few other notable roles before he passed away. The grittiest, darkest film he ever starred in is most likely RUNNING SCARED. Milking the maximum amount of tension out of a simple premise, RUNNING SCARED is one hell of a thrill ride! It’s not a perfect film because things will likely get too over-the-top for some viewers and the film’s style occasionally gets in the way of its storytelling. Still, RUNNING SCARED is more than worth a watch for those who want a unique crime-thriller that gets crazier with each passing second.
Joey Gazelle (Paul Walker) is a mafia associate who’s been assigned to get rid of a gun that was used to kill a corrupt cop. Unfortunately for Joe, he takes a little too long to do his job. Joe’s procrastination leads to neighbor kid Oleg (Cameron Bright) stealing the piece and using it on his abusive father Anzor (Karel Roden). Joe is suddenly thrust into a race against time to recover the gun before he gets whacked by the mafia or nabbed by corrupt cop Detective Rydell (Chazz Palminteri). Meanwhile, Oleg is on the run and comes across various unsavory individuals who might mean the death of him.
To put it simply, RUNNING SCARED is batshit nuts. Director/writer Wayne Kramer was trying to hearken back to the hard-R crime-thrillers of the 1970s, while also incorporating Grimm’s fairy tale elements into the mixture. This results in a bonkers mix of bullets, colorful characters, a rip-roaring fast pace, and an overall strange style. I’ve never quite seen a thriller like RUNNING SCARED and there’s something to be said for that alone. Even though the film does make a couple of missteps, I’d argue that the many positives far outweigh the few negatives.
One of those positives comes in the sheer intensity that gets going the minute Oleg shoots his father and Joey goes looking for him. The race against time formula has been used in thousands of action flicks and thrillers, but RUNNING SCARED keeps things going at a ridiculously fast pace that barely lets the viewers catch their breath between violent encounters and dark developments. It certainly helps that Paul Walker shines in the role of Joey Gazelle, a protagonist who’s far from perfect to say the least. There are distinct moments where the audience can’t help but wonder if Joe will commit an evil deed. After all, this neighbor kid is putting Joe’s life on the line. Yet, Paul Walker still keeps us rooting for this low-level thug from beginning to end.
Cameron Bright was a child actor who never impressed me with any of his performances. To be fair, he starred in crappy films like X-MEN: THE LAST STAND, GODSEND, and ULTRAVIOLET. However, RUNNING SCARED has a surprisingly great turn from Bright as Oleg. His journey is just as compelling to watch as Walker’s storyline. The naturally shifting narrative, from Walker’s Joey to Bright’s Oleg, keeps things interesting. There’s never a dull moment, though I’d argue that certain plot developments are a little too convenient and the film’s style (flashy editing and a melting reel) occasionally distract from the on-screen insanity.
The various scumbags that Oleg meets bring different threats and deadly scenarios to the table, though a couple of them seem underused. A shadowy homeless man disappears in an anti-climactic way and I’d argue that the always intimidating Chazz Palminteri doesn’t get much to do as Rydell. Meanwhile, Bruce Altman and Elizabeth Mitchell star as the scariest damn characters in a subplot that comes right the hell out of nowhere and shocks the viewer in a big way. Vera Farmiga also gets time to shine in this subplot, with one of the best scenes in the entire movie.
RUNNING SCARED is absolutely nuts and I mean that as a compliment. Wayne Kramer crafted something special in this unique crime-thriller. The fairy tale qualities are further hammered home by an animated end credits sequence that nicely summarizes everything in a whimsically trippy way. The film features great performances, slick camera work, and fast-paced storytelling that revels in being as crazy as humanly possible. If you’re looking for something weird, cool, and thrilling, then RUNNING SCARED will more than satisfy your cinematic cravings.