By Michael Ferraro | February 25, 2006

Not to be confused with the 80’s action-comedy of the same name, starring Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines, “Running Scared” is a gritty gangster flick set in a world where everything that can go wrong will go wrong. Only this film takes that philosophy of old Murphy and outdoes it every chance it can. It’s an over the top adventure that hits the ground running from the start and never lets up. Just when you think there is nowhere else to go, Kramer ups the ante, leaving the viewer in constant shock and awe. Not everything about this movie works, such as the questionable acting and horrific accents, but you can’t help falling under its bullet-riddled spell. The first half has the same epileptic feel “Domino” had except the kinetic madness doesn’t last throughout the entire picture, as director Wayne Kramer tones it down halfway through. It’s still a move that’s too little too late.

Paul Walker stars as Joey Gazelle (clever…), a low-level mafia errand boy whose job is to get rid of firearms after they’ve served their murdering purpose. Instead of doing this simple job, Gazelle decides to keep them in his basement as collateral incase the mob ever decides to turn on him. During a drug deal gone bad, the boss’s son Tommy (Johnny Messner) shoots an undercover policeman and once again relies on Joey to get rid of it.

Joey decides to hide the piece in his basement not knowing that Oleg, his 10-year-old neighbor, is hiding there watching him. The boy steals the gun and uses it to shoot his abusive Russian stepfather. When Gazelle realizes where the gun came from, he embarks on a tediously clichéd journey to get to the weapon before Tommy or the police can get to it.

This film attempts to be many things but falls short of each of them. Paul Walker doesn’t do much here except for one single scene near the end of the film that’s almost good enough for him to lose the “next Keanu Reeves” title his other efforts have earned him. The young Cameron Bright plays Oleg, and for all the stuff the character goes through, he handles the material well.

“Running Scared” just ends up being another paint-by-numbers gangster film. It’s obvious that Kramer has done his film-watching homework (mostly taking plays from the Guy Ritchie handbook); he just left out the best part – the sarcastic wit. This isn’t the type of over-the-top project you’d expect to come from the man who co-wrote and directed 2003’s “The Cooler” but you might not have expected to him to write “Mindhunters” either. It almost feels as if he made this movie before “The Cooler” since “Running Scared” is such a chaotic mess. Stylistically, it’s more of a music video than an actual film.

I still can’t help myself. With all that this film lacks, as far as originality is concerned, it’s still an entertaining ride. “Running Scared” is an overly ambitious guilty pleasure with enough action and violence to keep you interested, it just doesn’t have much else.

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