Saturday, January 19, 2013

Cinema 2006: A joyride for bullet junkies

It is common for filmmakers to add a subplot involving children in their “shoot ‘em up” projects. What is unusual is to incorporate the young ones so gratuitously into the violence. Unfortunately, that is the gist of “Running Scared” from 2006. And its happy ending does an absolute disservice to society.

There are a few nice cinematographic touches in this violent thriller, written and directed by Wayne Kramer, but the bulk of it is little more than a bullet junky’s joyride.

The film opens on the proverbial drug deal. The quality control guy assesses the dope laconically, “We’re happy.” That is the last time anyone in this film is happy until its insulting conclusion.

The deal goes bad and the shotguns and semi-autos take over. Everyone runs for cover, including the guy in charge of lighting. There are so many dark scenes here it looks like the movie was shot with the wrong film. Perhaps no one, not even Kramer, wants to shine any real light on the squalor and violence depicted here.

Forget the premise about a gun that can link a common New Jersey-variety mobster to the killing of a cop. Logic doesn’t loom large in “Running Scared.” This tale is a train off the tracks with more twists than a 60s sock-hop, and enough hot and cold-blooded violence to make the average citizen squirm and the hardcore videogamer sit still.

The film even reprises that decades-old sine qua non of the genre, the strip club scene, where the gangsters and/or cops meet to talk business, framed by the undulating bodies of the naked women who profit from the lust of these venal, violent men.

As the action piles up, you wonder why anyone would even root for the central character, Joey Gazelle (Paul Walker).

The final showdown at a local sports venue gives new meaning to the ice hockey term “goon,” but fails to distinguish itself in a long line of cinematic shoot outs. And when you see our hero at breakfast afterward, having cleaned himself up after taking three slap-shot pucks to the face, you wonder why our NHLers bother with bridgework.

Then there is Anzor (Karel Roden), a loser who has been sold a bill of goods on the American Dream. He is wearisome to watch as he tries to explain his adoration of John Wayne to his wife’s son Oleg (Cameron Bright). But the boy doesn’t care about cowboys or his father. And since Anzor came to New Jersey to be a mobster, I never found myself caring about him or his sob story anyway.

The movie doesn't gives us a reason to cheer until things begin to fall into place near the end. And no amount of Mom (Vera Farmiga) spooning with her son is going to atone for her own stint as a self-appointed executioner. It is as if such a film would make us believe murderous violence is the truest expression of love.

The films ends on an insult to any upstanding citizen, including the blue-collar contingent to which Kramer seems to be playing. Hollywood might consider it clever to brush off the parade of atrocities visited upon the kids in this movie with one scene in which Dad rough-houses with them while Mom looks on approvingly. But take a quick partial inventory of the parade of atrocities visited upon the kids in one day: kidnapping, pedophilia, attempted murder, murder.

In addition, Oleg is abused by a pimp named Lester, played with refreshing idiosyncrasy by David Warshofsky, who puts a switchblade to the boy’s face and threatens to disfigure him. Unfortunately for actor Warshofsky, his work amid this depraved human comedy can only come off as cartoonish.

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