It must be weird to be Paul Walker right now. The blandly handsome young star can be seen frolicking with adorable sled dogs in the family-friendly hit Eight Below. But if you were to stumble into the other Paul Walker movie showing in theaters, you'd see him eating out a brunette on top of a washing machine, using "motherfucker" as every other word and unloading countless rounds of ammunition into greasy-haired mobsters. As career moves go, it's either brilliant or suicidal.
Though it may be a change of pace for Walker, Running Scared is just the latest entry in the hyperviolent scuzzball genre that Quentin Tarantino started more than a decade ago. From True Romance to Boondock Saints to Domino, these flicks all have the same ingredients: triple-gun standoffs with bullets that fall like rain, ridiculously hard-boiled dialogue and endless references to other, better movies directed by Martin Scorsese. As with any genre that's desperately trying to maintain its cred, each effort has to be bigger, louder and more frantic than the last, sort of a scummy survival of the fittest. Tasteless, exploitive, clichéd and more than a little racist, Running Scared is by no means a good movie. But even as you laugh at the ludicrousness, it's hard to deny the unchecked, "can you top this?" audacity of it all.
A bizarre hybrid of Scarface, Crash and the X-rated portions of Grand Theft Auto, the film begins with a drug heist gone very wrong. Dicks are shot off, a half-dozen undercover cops are laid to waste, and our mob-underling hero Joey (Walker) has to cover it all up by hiding the murder weapon. When his son's best friend Oleg (Cameron Bright) takes the snub-nosed pistol, however, Joey's led on a chase through the back alleys and crack dens of New Jersey, encountering the sleaziest, most lurid scenarios imaginable. You name it, it's in Running Scared: crooked cops, psychotic pimps, wife-beaters, child-beaters, kiddy pornographers, hookers with hearts of gold, Italian mob bosses, Russian mob bosses, Latino homeys, mail-order brides, muscle cars, hockey-puck torture and exploding meth labs. It's what a frat boy might dream up if given a free ride to film school, an unlimited production budget and an endless supply of cocaine.
Following up his low-key critical success The Cooler, writer-director Wayne Kramer has decided to obliterate subtlety and go for broke, employing every plot contrivance and stylistic flourish known to man. Like a hyperactive 13-year-old with an iMac and a video camera, he can't edit a scene without adding a million effects: fast-forward footage, slow-motion flashbacks, freeze-frames, saturated colors, computer animation. He shoves the camera into his actors' faces to get close-ups so extreme you can see their pores. Then he directs everyone to deliver their cornball dialogue at the highest possible volume level, screaming such lines as, "Dead guys tell no tales!" or "I'm closing shop on your tweaker ass!" or "Her forwarding address is going to be in 10 different zip codes, in dumpsters!" As these bon mots may indicate, Running Scared is nothing if not shameless. But for those with no shame, it might become something of a cult classic.
Michael Hastings writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].