A number of my friends and family will not go to see action films anymore. With the state of the World as it is, they find no entertainment value in watching someone kill or be killed. For me, going to the movies has never been about watching someone get killed, it is about watching an involving story. If it contains violence, does the violence serve the story? If it serves the story, is the story told well? Naturally, many films are mediocre, or just plain bad, and many of these bad films contain violence, but there are also many films made by filmmakers attempting to create art. Basically, these feelings would preclude the same friends and family from ever watching some of Martin Scorcese's best films or the work of Michael Mann. That's unfortunate.
However, this same principle will most certainly keep them away from "Running Scared", the new film from writer/ director Wayne Kramer ("The Cooler"). The new film is no gem and I am thankful all of my friends and family will be spared over two hours of excessive, over-wrought, poorly acted celluloid. That's very fortunate.
When a filmmaker has a success, they are genuinely given a great deal of latitude with their next project. Studios are anxious to work with them, anxious for lightning to strike twice. How often does lightning strike twice? What a shame Kramer spent some of his clout making this film. You would be hard pressed to say the director of "The Cooler" also made "Running Scared", they are so completely different. And that isn't a compliment.
All of the elements of the earlier film's character study have been thrown out the window, completely forsaken in favor of over-produced action sequences and special effects. This is filmmaking in the Tony Scott method; bombard the audience with anything and everything and maybe some of it will stick. If you have ever seen one of Scott's films you will recognize the rapid cuts, paused film, fast forwards and more. For instance, in the first big gun battle (notice, `first'), the camera stops on a guy's hand as he pulls a straight razor from his sock, freezing the action, to make sure the audience notices the new weapon. We then watch, in real time, as it slices the ankle of a gunman. Or if we see someone get a face full of lead, blood and gore splattering behind them, the camera will freeze on the mess and then quickly rewind to show us who shot the bullet and how they got the gun in the first place.
Sounds great doesn't it?
The overabundance of special effects and POV shots does one thing. Very well. It glorifies the violence. Tony Scott's films use similar techniques (and he could be accused of borrowing from Tarantino, who borrowed from many Hong Kong filmmakers), but Scott's films also manage to invest some of the characters with humanity, no matter how fleeting, making us feel empathy towards them. Kramer is not as successful and no one in "Running Scared" does this. From the low level gang members, to the drug runners, to the dirty cops, to the pimps, no one is likable. Worse, no one is interested in anything except saving themselves, making them uninteresting and self-centered. At one point, the neighbor's kid becomes involved and the story veers off into a strange territory, too strange to go into much detail. This sequence seems tacked on to make some of the characters more human, but it really only adds more violence for the sake of violence.
Oh and Paul Walker is in the film. With two films released with two weeks, Walker is on the talk show circuit promoting "Eight Below", the live action Disney film featuring Walker and a bunch of dogs, the other film. Usually, when an actor has two films released so closely, and they are only promoting one film, it is a good indication of which film they hope will succeed at the box office. "Eight Below" is not a great film, but next to "Running Scared", it looks like "Gone With The Wind". Walker does an okay job with the Jersey accent, but his character, Joey Gazelle, a low rung on the gang's ladder, spends the entire film running frantically from one location to the next, screaming, yelling, cursing to show what a tough guy he is. It's probably just as well Walker chose to promote the film in which he costars with dogs. The other film is simply a dog.
The story, such as it is, begins with a drug deal gone bad. Joey (Walker), and the rest of his crew get away, but only after they learn they have killed some dirty cops. His boss tells him to get rid of the guns. Naturally, Joey decides to hide them in his house. Joey's son, and the neighbor's son, who are playing, hide and watch Joey stash them in a secret place. Soon, the neighbor's son shoots his abusive Russian immigrant father and runs away. Joey puts two and two together and has to hunt the gun down before it gets back to the cops. Near the very end of the film, we learn a little secret making the entire film unnecessary, in more ways than one.
This is the type of film where every character is a caricature. Chazz Palmienteri appears as Detective Rydell, a crooked cop. The actor seems to have two stock characters he rotates through in his film projects; the crooked cop and the mobster. In "Running", he combines both creating a caricature of a caricature. I half expected him to become the animated character Fat Tony from "The Simpsons". The abusive Russian Immigrant father? He seems to spend his days sitting around chain smoking while watching "John Wayne and the Cowboys" over and over again, always rooting for John Wayne to get up after the climatic gun fight. He so idolizes the Duke, he has a tattoo of the cowboy on his back. I also heard a lot of `dem' and `dose' type of phrases. The film is set in Jersey after all.
"Running Scared" is violent for the sake of violence. Director Kramer wants to show how cool he is, using every filmmaking trick in the book. The violence, gun battles, knives, gunshots, fist fights, etc., are all an excuse for Kramer to show off all of his tricks. What Kramer doesn't seem to realize is that we've all seen these tricks before. In better films. Far better films.
I'll make an early prediction here. This will be on my list of worst films of the year.