After being repeatedly exposed to the tepid trailer for Running Scared (first strike: I hear that title and I think Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines, not gritty crime drama), I wasn’t expecting much. And to be honest, I didn’t get much. But I did get more than I expected, pretty much a mashup between Sin City and A History of Violence.
Longstanding mafia punk Joey Gazelle (warning: manqué Paul Walker) juggles his home life with the demands of his duties as a disposal man for his track-suit, gold-chain wearing clichéd goombahs. Given a hot gun to disappear that was used to whack a dirty cop, for some odd reason he chooses to barely conceal the piece behind a fake wall in his basement, where a friend of his young son filches it to go next door to try to put down his own abusive father. Enter all sorts of eccentric characters as the gun is passed along, hand to hand across the dirty Hoboken cityscape as an increasingly desperate Joey tries to intercept it before it falls into the hands of the main dirty cop (Chazz Palminteri, looking increasingly like Richard Nixon).
On a narrative level, Running Scared is an awkward mélange, seemingly two short screenplays twisted together to make one. With the aforementioned scenario, we also have the nightmarish travels of Oleg, the boy who tried to kill his father. Along the way, he meets a Golem-esque crack addict, a wigger “Big Mack Daddy” and his sympathetic whore, and the horror of a white bread couple who are worse than pedophiles, worse than child pornographers, worse than … let’s suffice to say that their names are The Hansels. While the vignette is completely out of left field, director Wayne Kramer (of oddly enough, the quirky Las Vegas dark comedy The Cooler) uses shadows to a near horror film efficiency.
What the narrative lacks (especially in regards to a sympathetic character to align with), Running Scared more than compensates with cinematic bling to spare—a wannabe graphic novel adapted to screen without an actual graphic novel as a source, a completely over-the-top bit of near-sociopathic ultra-violence that, despite a dark humored sensibility, will drive enough people from the theater in the first half-hour to allow you to chuckle unself-consciously with dark kindred at the ensuing hyper-stylized mayhem. Oh, yes … there will be blood. And boobies. And more blood …