I really don’t have a problem with America’s team captain, Paul Walker. Alot of people seem to hate this guy, but I think he’s pretty good at playing these straight laced hunky characters in movies like THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS and EIGHT BELOW. But I gotta admit, when I saw the trailer for RUNNING SCARED I thought it looked like the worst shit ever. Paul Walker doing an accent, playing a mob guy? I wasn’t buying it. It didn’t help that the trailer ended with mobsters trying to hit a glowing hockey puck into Walker’s mouth. Like it’s not enough to hit the guy in the face, they gotta make it visually appealing and EXTREME.
But there are two things that the trailer didn’t get across. One, that Paul Walker actually does a pretty good job playing this type of character. I was hoping that Clint’s FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS would be the movie that shows Walker is a little better than people thought, but his part in that one turned out to be minimal. Instead it was this one that makes you think huh, maybe he could play other types of characters. Hard to say. The second thing the trailer didn’t get across about RUNNING SCARED is that it’s a crazed, ridiculous movie where the day-glo hockey rink fits right in. And I guess the third thing is that Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines are not in this one, it’s Paul Walker.
Walker’s character has the job of disposing of murder weapons for the mob. But instead of actually disposing of them, he keeps them in baggies in a secret compartment in his basement. I don’t think the beginning of the movie actually offers a reason why he would do this, but the narration in the trailer tells you that it’s his insurance in case they try to screw him over some day.
He has a wife and a son, and the son likes to play with the Russian kid who lives next door. The Russian kid is played by Creepy Boy, that kid from every movie that has come out in the last 2 years. For example he was in X-MEN 3 as the kid who takes away X-Man powers, and he was in some movie where he stares eerily at Nicole Kidman and freaks everybody out.
Well, Creepy Boy’s dad is a John Wayne-obsessed, crystal meth manufacturing, Russian mafia associated child abuser. Creepy has enough so he steals one of Walker’s murder weapons and uses it to shoot his dad.
Paul hears gunshots, assumes it’s the dad doing the shooting and runs over, but when he realizes that the kid stole the gun that his boss just used to kill a cop in the opening shootout, he knows what he has to do: get the fucking thing back before the cops get there. He pries the bullet casings out of the walls, but Creepy runs off with the gun. So the movie is about Paul trying to get the gun back.
But like I said this is not some kind of realistic crime drama. This is a world where in one night a kid can shoot his dad, encounter a faceless boogie man, save a hooker from an abusive white pimp, get kidnapped by a middle class couple who are actually crazed pedophile serial killers, and face down corrupt cops and the Russian mafia in a black-light hockey arena.
Meanwhile Paul Walker is pounding the bricks trying to track the gun down, as it goes through multiple owners (including the same pimp Creepy Boy confronted earlier). Walker almost always plays a sort of dumb sounding but friendly jock dude who calls everybody bro. This is a rare challenge for him where he is constantly yelling, swearing, spitting, fighting, running, and panicked. Instead of “bro” he calls people cocksuckers and “You fucking motherfucker!” and in at least two scenes he just lets out a primal scream at the top of his lungs, like a sasquatch asserting his dominance over his territory. In that hockey rink he’s pinned face down in a puddle of dark colored blood, screaming and making the blood bubble up.
The style of the movie is as freaked out as the characters. When I heard word that this was not the movie the trailer implied but actually something really over the top and feverish (some people even compared it to THE WARRIORS for some reason) I was a little worried that it was gonna be some DOMINO-type unwatchable bullshit. On the commentary track, the director even mentions that he got the idea to use a handcrank for a shootout from Tony Scott’s MAN ON FIRE. Man, nobody should get ANY idea from MAN ON FIRE except to not watch Tony Scott movies anymore. But this guy uses the show-offy style much more effectively. He moves the camera all over the place but he is more controlled about it. He is willing to calm down sometimes to give it a rhythm, he doesn’t do the same tricks over and over, and he gives you the feeling that the shots are carefully planned out to communicate things visually, even if they’re ridiculously over-the-top. He twirls you around, but he doesn’t hit you in the face with a shovel.
The bit about the Russian gangster being obsessed with John Wayne is kind of lame, especially since Sid Haig already had a John Wayne tattoo and talked worshipfully about “the Duke” in HOUSE OF ONE THOUSAND CORPSES. This guy has a huge John Wayne back tattoo and makes a speech to Creepy Boy about his childhood in Russia seeing only edited 8-mm versions of westerns and not knowing that John Wayne died in the movies and how that represents his feelings about America. And this is the character’s first scene. I thought it was embarassing because first of all, didn’t they figure out ten years ago to stop trying to copy Tarantino with these pop culture monologist criminals? And second of all, if he really felt this way wouldn’t this have come out before and not have to be a speech he makes to his son right now? It’s fucking horrible. On the other hand, I kind of like how it ties in to the character’s death, when he takes his shirt off so that he can walk away with The Duke facing his foes. Then the tattoo gets its eyes shot out. It almost passes itself off as a meaningful death but I couldn’t get past the context. This guy is a scumbag but he gets redeemed right before his death. How does he turn a new leaf? By refusing an order to execute his own son. And the movie acts like we’re supposed to be surprised that he doesn’t do it. Like an ordinary person would kill his own son but this guy took a stand.
And unfortunately there’s a HUGE SPOILER twist that I could’ve done without. It turns out that, unbeknownst to everybody else in the movie, Paul Walker is actually an undercover cop. That’s the real reason why he’s keeping all the guns: for evidence. I think he needs to get the bullets and the gun before the cops do because he knows there are crooked cops about and he doesn’t want to blow his 12 years of undercover. I guess the twist works storywise, but why does every protagonist have to be a fuckin cop? We were already with this guy for the whole movie while thinking he was a real criminal, so why do we have to find out don’t worry, he’s actually a good guy at the end? Especially since Paul Walker already did this you thought I was a criminal but actually I’m an undercover cop business halfway through THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS. Here they had us believing in Paul Walker playing a different kind of character and then they still have to tell us, “Don’t worry, deep down he’s actually a nice guy – like Paul Walker.”
But most of the movie isn’t that dumb. There’s alot of clever little gimmicks, like a huge shootout that takes place in the enclosed space of a single (only slightly larger than usual) hotel room. The tangent about the pedophiles is pretty cool because their apartment seems like a different world from the rest of the movie, and Walker’s wife, who up until that point doesn’t have much to do, temporarily becomes the main character of the movie.
This is the guy who directed THE COOLER with William H. Macey and Alec Baldwin. I never saw that one and, although I liked this one, I’m not putting him on my list of directors to look out for. Because I listened to some of the commentary track and this guy just rubs me the wrong way. He keeps talking about the “fairy tale” and “Brothers Grimm” themes in the movie, he seems to think that makes it deep. You know what man, THE GODFATHER and GOODFELLAS didn’t have parallels to Humpty Dumpty and Little Miss Muffet and if they did that wouldn’t have made them deeper. Then the guy keeps talking about Alice in Wonderland and Wizard of Oz and things that aren’t even fairy tales or Brothers Grimm. But he seems so god damn proud of it. It made me kind of sad. The only thing he talks about more than the fairy tales is how he was trying to make a ’70s style crime thriller, and how proud he is that he achieved that. Which is weird, because this is a 2006 movie through and through – crazed camera moves, gratuitous CGI showoffery, digital recoloring, Creepy Boy in the cast, limp postmodernism left over from the ’90s, corny fairy tale references to make it weird. So I came to the conclusion that this guy made a pretty good movie, but probaly by accident.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.