Starring: Paul Walker, Cameron Bright, Vera Farmiga, Karel Roden, Johnny Messner, Chazz Palminteri. Rated R.
Running Scared is a frenetic exercise in style, an ultra-violent fantasy so over-the-top and awash with fake blood
that it would make Tarantino blush. Set in a fictional New Jersey wasteland appropriately dubbed Grimley, it envisions a chaotic
world of mobsters, drug addicts, pedophiles and their long-suffering victims. If anyone’s happy, they don’t show
At the center of this world is Joey (Paul Walker), a younger, dumber version of The Wolf from Pulp Fiction. He’s
a cleanup guy for the mob, and when his associates unwittingly kill an undercover cop, it’s his responsibility to hide
the (literally) smoking gun. Joey cleverly stashes it away in the last place anyone would think to look – his basement.
Bad move. Joey’s son, Nicky (Alex Neuberger), and his creepy neighborhood friend, Oleg (Cameron Bright), soon recover
it, and before long the body count begins to rise, starting with Oleg’s meth-addicted stepfather, who just happens to
be a sadistic Russian gangster.
Thus, the chase begins. Joey, an upstanding sort despite his criminal leanings, is charged with the task of finding Oleg and
the incriminating pistol before the rest of the Grimley community lands in the morgue. That’s not as simple as it sounds.
In the course of one excruciating night, Joey butts heads with a colorful cast of pimps and trigger-happy mobsters whose body
parts explode with alarming frequency. On the homefront, his tough-as-nails wife, Teresa (Vera Farmiga), enjoys a relatively
quiet evening, marred only by a run-in with a group of child pornographers.
Paul Walker, who has been upstaged in his most celebrated films by Vin Diesel (The Fast and The Furious) and a pack
of dogs (Eight Below), is hardly the most expressive actor in movies today, and his tough-guy turn in Running Scared
is unlikely to earn him Oscar consideration. More effective is Farmiga, whose fiery performance injects the right dose of
passion into the proceedings.
But the real star of the show is writer-director Wayne Kramer (The Cooler), whose script is bursting with manic energy
and disquieting ugliness. To be sure, Running Scared is a jarring spectacle, loaded with gratuitous gore and not much
else. And yet, despite its utter lack of substance, it remains the guiltiest of pleasures. There’s little below the
blood-soaked surface of this supremely flawed film noir, but the thrill of the chase is something to behold.