- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 23, 2006

Writer/director Wayne Kramer must have rubbed up against the main character from his last film, 2003’s “The Cooler.”

You know, the guy played by William H. Macy who brought bad luck to streaking gamblers.

How else to rationalize “Running Scared,” an exploitive embarrassment that can’t even take itself seriously?

During one torture sequence, a gang of Latino thugs giggle when one of their own gets his finger snapped by the film’s hero.

Heck, if they can’t keep a straight face, what chance do the rest of us have?

It’s hard to take anything in Mr. Kramer’s film seriously, but everyone involved performs as if someone held a puppy at gunpoint just off-camera and told them to overact as if Fluffy’s life depended on it.

Let’s dispense with the story, a regurgitated gangster tale shot in ugly neon hues.

Low-level thug Joey Gazelle (Paul Walker, still pretty despite the gangsta makeover) is a simple family man trying to make ends meet in a New Jersey suburb — and keep a stash of stolen firearms in his basement. When the neighbor’s child, Oleg, steals one of the guns and shoots his vicious stepfather figure, Joey must find the boy before the gun gets traced back to him.

The lad proves a slippery fellow. He runs away and into the arms of a dangerous pimp, a kindly hooker and, most sickeningly, a husband-and-wife pedophile team.

Whatever guilty kicks “Running Scared” promised vanish during this nauseating detour.

Meanwhile, Joey’s having little luck of his own tracking down Oleg or convincing his fellow mobsters that it wasn’t his gun responsible for the shooting.

Copious pools of blood are spilled along the way, and the F-word gets the kind of workout Eddie Murphy once gave it during his stand-up routines.

Two action set pieces in particular set new highs, or lows, really, for gratuitous screen violence. It’s a numbing one-two punch that can’t detract from the fact that, for all the mayhem, there’s precious little to care about here. The film’s stabs at realism are a riot, and Mr. Walker won’t cajole anyone into thinking he’s ready for movies meatier than this or “Into the Blue,” his last junk fest.

Audiences will howl when Joey loses a face-off — using his forehead as a hockey stick — but manages to stay conscious. And the Duke would cringe if he knew the film’s evil stepfather worshipped John Wayne movies with such fetishistic glee.

Even bigger offenses come whenever Mr. Kramer tries for atmosphere: We get a camera trick for every occasion — even a routine flash of a cop badge becomes a pastiche of rapid cuts that leave us reeling.

Among the disappearing Joizy accents, the plot pretzels and wild overacting, “Running Scared” tries hard to be the “Showgirls” for a new century. Instead, it’s this year’s “Alone in the Dark,” the front-runner for worst movie of the year.

We know it’s only February, but trust us, this one’s got legs.

*

TITLE: “Running Scared”

RATING: R (Harsh language, extreme violence, gore, sexual situations and nudity)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Wayne Kramer. Cinematography by Jim Whitaker. Original music by Mark Isham.

RUNNING TIME: 116 minutes

WEB SITE: www.runningscared

themovie.com/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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