Running Scared is so frenetic, so filled with mayhem, bloodshed, kids in peril and more twists and turns than a mountain road it’s almost as if writer / director Wayne Kramer was afraid he would never get another chance to make any more movies so he crammed every idea he’s ever had into this one.
In short, cinnemanequin Paul Walker plays a petty criminal whose job is dispose of hot guns used in mob killings. Instead of throwing in the river he hides them in his basement where his son’s best friend finds them and uses one of them to shoot his abusive stepfather. From there the plot fragments into a thousand points of light. There’s a meth dealer with a John Wayne fixation, the little boy goes on the lam, dirty cops crawl out of the gutter and Walker must track down the gun that changes hands every five minutes. There’s more but I don’t want to be accused of giving away any spoilers.
It’s too much really. This many plot zigs and zags aren’t exhilarating, they are exhausting and distracting. Near the middle of the film when the bizarre twists start piling up the story seemed to become about pushing the story-telling envelope rather than simply telling the story. I would guess Kramer felt that each new plot device added a “cool” factor to the movie, adding to the fast pace of the film, but actually each new diversion slows down the core of the story taking us further from the core—the characters. Who is this movie about anyway? Is it about the young abused boy, the mob runner or dirty cops? I wish I knew.
The cast tries hard to keep pace with the story, but it is a daunting task. Paul Walker shed his usual Pinocchio style of wooden acting, opting for a bug-eyed frenetic approach that is lively, but charmless. One standout is Cameron Bright, the young Canadian actor who plays Oleg, the kid who gets vengeance on his stepfather. Bright is probably best known as the boy in the bathtub with Nicole Kidman in the controversial movie Birth, but I think he is the one of the best pre-teen actors working today.