The Missing Piece

Thoughts are running in my head. Not running scared, just running in opposite directions and it’s giving me a splitting headache. I can’t make up my mind about Wayne Kramer’s “Running Scared.” So here’s what I’ll do. I’m going to organize my thoughts and put the movie on trial.

Pleas rise for the Honorable IWatchedThisMovie.

Okay, that’s not necessary. Sit all your ass down. I want to get this over with. Let’s start with the facts: Paul Walker plays a low-level gangster, gracefully named Joey Gazelle. His duty is to dispose incriminating guns linked to a deadly shootout, which produced dead undercover cops. Joey hides the “pieces” in the basement, unaware that he’s being watched by his son Nicky (Alex Neuberger) and his neighbor/playmate Oleg (Cameron Bright). Moments later, while eating dinner, Joey hears shooting next-door. It turns out Oleg snatched one of Joey’s guns and used it to shoot his abusive Russian stepfather (Karel Roden). The boy flees the scene and acts out the movie title. This begins Joey’s long journey into the night as he embarks to retrieve the gun and the kid, before his own mob family or the cops get him in big trouble.

Before I begin, I’d like to submit Exhibit A. Here’s an actual dialogue from the movie.

My first reaction was “Did the movie just comment on itself?” What Joey says to the pimp is exactly what I’d like to say to the movie. “Running Scared” is hardly original, it just thinks it is. And most of its characters are appallingly cartoon. Is this really from the same man who wrote the character-driven “The Cooler”? The depiction of different ethnicities here is insulting, as if Wayne Kramer learned about people from movie stereotypes. So thumbs down on characters. As for the plot, it’s like Kramer brainstormed on how to keep the movie longer. The “missing gun” scenario seems to be never-ending. Damn, how many times a gun gets passed around in ONE night?

Now, for something big: Paul Walker is wrong for the role. While the agile actor is at home with the action genre, the role requires complexity. Joey needs to be played as a double sided coin of good and bad. I’m thinking of acting at the level of Edward Norton or Denzel Washington, two actors who can play both good and evil. Paul Walker is just too good, in a bad way. I’m not convinced he’s a badass no matter how many f-bombs explode from his mouth. And that’s the other big problem I have: cussing. Can you be more fuckin’ original by constantly using the word “fuck” – it’s fuckin’ boring! I mean, what the fuckin’ fuck. You can’t fuckin’ open a fuckin’ dictionary or a fuckin’ thesaurus, to fuckin’ look up another fuckin’ word. How limited is your fuckin’ vocabulary! I saw fuckin’ kids in the National Spelling Bee who know more fuckin’ words than “fuck.” Try using “ursprache” in a sentence. Maybe you’d be a little more original, you fuck. Case fuckin’ closed.

“Running Scared” is not entirely unoriginal. Writer Wayne Kramer throws a lot of things at the audience and not all are misses. I thought he puts a nice twist on the abusive stepfather by making him a fan of John Wayne. The payoff is silly and melodramatic, but it’s interesting nonetheless. As for creeps, Kramer scores points on the Hoboken couple subplot. Sure, it’s a distraction from the major plot, but it concludes with a soul-shaking act.

While Walker doesn’t run with the role, the other lead does. The rarely smiling Cameron Bright is mesmerizing to watch on screen, even if his performance is mostly based on his looks. Seasoned Chazz Palminteri looks comfortable here as a dirty cop and Vera Farmiga is the film’s breakout star, as Joey’s sexy wife.

Now, “Running Scared” is not a masterpiece and it’s too easy to point out its flaws. But as a two-hour diversion, it does its job well. It’s consistently alive and kicking the entire time. It might be guilty of many things, but you can’t accuse of it of being boring.

B for barely passing, but it’s worth a look. “Running Scared” is distinct and arguably bolder and more creative than the average film. Now, have a round of aspirins on me. Review adjourned.

Paul Walker, Cameron Bright, Vera Farmiga, Chazz Palminteri, Johnny Messner, Michael Cudlitz, Alex Neuberger, Ivana Milicevic, John Noble, and David Warshofsky
Screenplay by
Wayne Kramer
Directed by
Wayne Kramer
Rated R for pervasive strong brutal violence and language, sexuality and drug content