Thursday, March 25, 2021

Reserved Seating Presents The Rest of the Furious: RUNNING SCARED

 by Adam Riske and Rob DiCristino

The review duo who have season tickets to the Razors. Red ice!

Adam: Welcome back to Reserved Seating. I’m Adam Riske.

Rob: And I’m Rob DiCristino.

Adam: Our Rest of the Furious series returns with a look at another non-Fast & Furious movie from one of our favorite Family members: the late, great Paul Walker. This time we’re revisiting the insane 2006 action thriller Running Scared, directed by Wayne Kramer (The Cooler) and starring Walker, Vera Farmiga, Cameron Bright, and Chazz Palminteri. Running Scared tells the story of a small-time hood named Joey Gazelle (Paul Walker) who runs afoul of his mob family when a gun entrusted to him to be destroyed is stolen by Joey’s next door neighbor’s kid (Cameron Bright) and used in a shooting. With his family and crooked cops (led by Palminteri) on his trail, Joey needs to find the gun and the kid before it’s too late. Having a side adventure of her own is Joey’s wife, Teresa (Vera Farmiga), who gets into more than she bargained for herself.

Running Scared is incredible. I went into this movie with low expectations back in 2006 and was blown away by the energy, seediness, and twisted nature the film had to offer. This is a New Line Cinema movie through and through. It’s also a great up-all-night type of movie, where the hero is on a quest with a strict timetable. This is the movie where I noticed Paul Walker for the first time as an invaluable resource to your crazy action picture. His performance in Running Scared is supremely caffeinated and it goes a long way to pushing the momentum forward similar to what Jason Statham achieved in Crank. 2006 was also the year I discovered Vera Farmiga for myself with Running Scared and The Departed and she’s become one of my favorite actors over the years. She’s so damn good in Running Scared, always smart, resourceful and ready to exact furious vengeance upon the scum of the earth. Man, I love Running Scared. It’s sad that Wayne Kramer didn’t go on to be a genre director of choice for 5 to 10 years after this movie.

What do you think of Running Scared, Rob? Also, where do you fall on Paul Walker as a movie star outside of the Fast and the Furious franchise?
Rob: I can’t remember if my friends and I first saw Running Scared in theaters or on video, but we were absolutely blown away and have been beating the drum for it ever since. Sadly, almost no one I talk to — even a lot of movie lovers — give it much credit, either because they skipped it on release or because they dismiss it as low-rent schlock. I simply do not understand that attitude. Running Scared is, in all sincerity, a genre masterpiece. It’s a desaturated Grimm’s Fairy Tale on speed that (like Crank, as you said) comes by its aesthetic honestly: Its sensibilities match its presentation, which is the key ingredient most modern movies aping ‘70s genre classics lack. The characters are absolutely ridiculous movie stereotypes, but Kramer leans into them so hard that they take on a real life of their own. Along those lines, the movie is presented with this magical realism that is patently insane when dissected, but it never matters in the moment because the energy is so captivating. Remember when Zack Snyder and Frank Miller were doing that grimy, comic book actioner thing in the mid ‘00s? Running Scared is what they were all going for.

As for Walker, well, I think this is the performance of his short career. Due respect to our buddy The Buster, but he is firmly in the pocket in Running Scared in a way he simply never got the chance to be again. Joey Gazelle (a perfect mob soldier name) has the vibe of a gangster but the undeniable heart of a father and working man, never better depicted than in his relationships with Alex Neuberger as Nicky and Cameron Bright as Oleg. It’s an old acting cliche that you can’t fake chemistry with a kid actor, and Walker has an honest-to-goodness rapport with both. It’s not even that the kids are great actors; it’s that Walker comes alive in their scenes together in a way that endears us to them even more. There are some really beautiful father/son thematics weaved throughout, as well, which tempers some of the camp factor and imbues the whole thing with a bit more heart.

Adam: The kids are muted in comparison to the rabid dog energy of the adults in Running Scared. I wonder, in this film’s universe, at what age you transition to becoming a crazy person.
Rob: I also love his relationship with Vera Farmiga, another actor giving maybe a career-best performance. As you said, her Theresa is warm, smart, resourceful, and a thousand times tougher than her husband. I love how earnestly passionate they are about each other in the face of the insane darkness of the world around them. They have an old-school mob family vibe without the ceremonial bullshit. Best of all, she’s not just an accessory: Aside from her significant role in shaping Joey’s path through this awful night, Theresa has this horrifying ten-minute solo adventure in the middle of the movie that most other productions would have left on the cutting room floor. She’s absolutely Running Scared’s secret weapon.

The end of that sequence is one of the most satisfying moments of vengeance ever put in an exploitation film. It also nearly takes away all the goodwill Elizabeth Mitchell built up for herself with me from the couch move in The Santa Clause 2.

Rob: I really need to watch The Santa Clause 2, don’t I? Add that to the list for #Junesploitation. Anyway, I definitely want to mention Chazz Palminteri, an actor often dismissed as “the guy you get when De Niro says no.” Well, that may be true, but he was made to play exactly this kind of dirty cop. The dude has a radioactive glow under these lights that is absolutely other-worldy. He’s fantastic in this movie.

Speaking of other worlds: If you’re having trouble buying into Running Scared’s over-the-top imagery and energy, just think of it as a kind of parallel midnight world in which the normal rules of everyday life don’t apply. Everything’s a little darker, a little gummier, and everyone has awesome North Jersey accents. This movie rules.

Adam: All the John Wayne stuff with Oleg’s father (played by Karel Roden) cracks me up. I love that it goes on for as long as it does. It’s like a one-act play that writer-director Wayne Kramer has had in his head his entire life and he’s going to fit it into this movie one way or another. It somehow feels organic to Running Scared, though, because it’s insane at the level the rest of the movie is insane.

Rob: For sure. This isn’t something we usually talk about, but given Running Scared’s subject matter, do you have a favorite bit of exaggerated violence? For example, I love the hockey rink scene. Red ice, baby!
Adam: I’d probably agree with that. Besides Paul Walker taking slap shots to the face, it also ends with him shooting hockey players on the ice, which (in the realm of this crazy movie) is funny. Are those players on the Razors or hoods dressed up like hockey players at a recreational arena? If these are Razors, will Nicky and Oleg be pissed that these guys aren’t gonna play on Friday night?

I also like that scene because it finally puts an end to Tommy “Tombs” Perello (DTV stalwart Johnny Messner) who appropriately drives me crazy in this movie. Johnny Messner has haunted me for years. I’ve barely seen anything he’s in but the name Johnny Messner is like “Mr. Showtime!” where it feels like he’s been there my entire life. Maybe it’s because Stephen Dorff’s character in Somewhere is named Johnny Marco and he’s a big-ticket movie star in that film and I conflate the two. I feel like if you’re a movie star named Johnny, you need to have it all or nothing at all.

Rob: He’s way, WAY too much, but like I said: This movie leans into caricatures so far that he circles back around to being tonally appropriate.

Adam: Anything else about Running Scared?

Just that I really encourage everyone to give it a shot (or a revisit) on a night they’re in the mood for some beautiful nonsense. I want Running Scared to be the next “underrated gem” to get a Blu-ray release from a genre boutique label.

Next week, our Bomb Squad series returns with 2008’s Speed Racer. I’ve been itching to revisit this one, so this should be fun. Until next time…

Adam: These seats are reserved.

1 comment:

  1. This movie is absolutely bonkers and really showcases how good Paul Walker is at anchoring a performance to reality no matter what crazy shit is happening in the script. It's what the F&F movies are missing most as they continue to turn into bloated Vin Diesel Is The Coolest™ adventures.