The people who end up really hating Running Scared are the ones who mistakenly took it for a flick meant to be taken seriously. This is a self-aware action parody that wears a very straight face, and for all its over-the-top indulgences, the flick is, quite simply, actually a big ball of freaky fun.
For the first 20-some minutes of the outrageously wild Running Scared, I was under the impression that it was a rough, gruff and straight-faced action drama. But as I watched cliché after stereotype after convention spill all over each other, each jockeying for position in this nutty, pulpy stew of a movie, I dawned on me that Wayne Kramer's Running Scared is a tight-lipped, yet seriously tongue-in-cheek homage to everyone from Sam Peckinpah and Walter Hill to Quentin Tarantino and David Fincher. This is a gruesomely intense, slyly silly, and smoothly entertaining piece of grown-up escapism ... and to think, a movie this sinfully fun is actually anchored by a Paul Walker performance.
Like the finest examples of mindless action mayhem, Running Scared exhibits a one-line plot synopsis:
Low-end mafia goon Joey Gazelle (yep, Gazelle) is charged with disposing of a gun that was (very) recently used to kill some crooked cops, only to discover that the weapon has been pilfered by the creepy Russian kid who lives next door.
Running Scared is one of those "all in one night" movies, and to say it's a night overstuffed with danger, violence, and outright insanity, well, that'd be a huge understatement.
Many will gripe about the flick's over-reliance on standard clichés, cardboard characters, and mega-ripe tough-guy dialogue, but it only took me a few scenes to realize that writer/director Wayne Kramer was mounting his tale with a cocked eyebrow and a palpable affection for the craziest action movies under the sun. So much crazy stuff goes down during the course of Joey's nightmarish evening that Running Scared begins to feel like a "greatest hits" collection of action flick lunacy.
In the lead role, Walker is at his least irritating, and he gets suitable support from Johnny Messner as an distrustful thug, Chazz Palmintieri as one of the dangerously devilish cops, and young Cameron Bright as the misunderstood kid-next-door. And then there's the issue of Ms. Vera Farmiga, an actress strongly admired by the indie fans out there, who manages to steal the entire flick as Walker's ever-devoted wife. (She even gets a subplot all her own, one that stands as a clear indication that Running Scared is meant to be taken as seriously as a pulpy comic book -- or at least a really grim neo-fairy tale.)
Laden with pointless-yet-cool camera tricks, a crazily contorted plot structure, and more outrageously unrealistic violence than a Road Runner cartoon, Running Scared is an absolute catalog of action flick tricks, and one presented by a filmmaker who's clearly having a good time sampling from the genre salad bar. Call it mindless, brutal, derivative, and silly if you like ... and I probably wouldn't disagree with you. But when all's said and done, Running Scared antes up with the cinematic insanity, and it's sure not stingy about giving the ticket buyer his money's worth.
(Review reprinted from eFilmCritic.com, because I felt like it!)