Movie review: ‘Running Scared'

FamilyCrime, Law and JusticeCrimeEntertainmentMoviesChazz Palminteri

1 star (out of four)

Walking out of the screening of "Running Scared," Hollywood's latest vehicle for Paul Walker's steely blues, I heard a man praise the film for its many characters. "I like that it had so many," he said to his companion. "Most movies are limited, but not this one."Oh, how right he is. There's the Latina whore, the Russian whore, the mack daddy pimp, the Russian mobsters, the Italian mobsters, crooked cops, gangbangers and, lest we think writer/director Wayne Kramer has a thing against minorities, the lily-white pedophiles from Hoboken, N.J.

For its great excess, "Running Scared" does have a certain charm--as I said to my editor, it's either a one-star or a four-star movie, can't be anything in between. Its violence ("pervasive, strong and brutal," according to the MPAA) is laugh-out-loud funny (quote me!) and its dependence on movie cliches past is equally amusing. "You want to study for the GED?" the previously mentioned pimp asks his lady-of-the-night sarcastically before smashing her face into broken glass. No, honey, I don't think you do.

Walker plays Joey, a low-level New Jersey mafioso whose job is to dispose of weapons after they've been used for whackings. But instead of tossing hot guns off the George Washington Bridge, Joey hides them in his basement as collateral. When neighbor kid Oleg (Cameron Bright, the creepy man-child from "Birth") steals an especially shiny piece--a piece that earlier in the day killed a cop--and shoots his abusive stepfather Anzor, who also happens to be a meth addict, John Wayne fanatic and brother to New Jersey's Russian crime boss, Paul's in t-r-o-u-b-l-e.

The rest of the film is Paul's nightlong mad dash to find Oleg and the gun before the mob discovers he has been hoarding evidence all along and before a dirty cop (Chazz Palminteri) exploits the now tenuous situation between the Italian and Russian families. It's hard to tell if Kramer, whose previous film was the stylish, mildly entertaining Las Vegas crime drama "The Cooler," is winking. He's certainly enamored of his own style, which combines moody colors, slow-motion and lots of psychedelic editing to produce a look that can only be described as faux-grit. But he can't actually be serious when he sends Joey into a hospital dressed in scrubs and a surgical mask to look for a stray bullet, can he? I don't even think they're still pulling that trick on "General Hospital." And when well-dressed pedophiles kidnap Oleg and bring him to their video camera-equipped funhouse apartment? I give up.

There's clearly supposed to be tension between Joey's good and bad sides. Sure, he's a mobster, but he's also a family man, which makes him … gray. (Not black and white = very sophisticated.) Too bad the family man drags his young son around town all night looking for Oleg, taking him to such family-friendly joints as the local strip club and pinning him up against a bathroom wall.

For all this and more, I have a sneaking suspicion that "Running Scared" could become a cult classic, and an even better hunch that it will top the box office this week. And who can blame moviegoers? It does, after all, have a lot of characters.

abenedikt@tribune.com

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`Running Scared'

Written and directed by Wayne Kramer; photographed by James Whitaker; edited by Arthur Coburn; production designed by Toby Corbett; music by Mark Isham; produced by Michael Pierce, Brett Ratner and Sammy Lee. A New Line Cinema release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:59. MPAA rating: R (pervasive strong brutal violence and language, sexuality and drug content).

Joey Gazelle - Paul Walker

Oleg - Cameron Bright

Det. Rydell - Chazz Palminteri

Teresa - Vera Farmiga

Anzor - Karel Roden

Nicky - Alex Neuberger

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