the review site with a difference since 1999
Reviews Interviews Articles Apps About

New Line Home Cinema presents

Running Scared (2006)

"I did not marry an evil man. And I know that's not what I see when I look in your eyes."- Teresa (Vera Farmiga)

Stars: Paul Walker, Cameron Bright, Vera Farmiga
Other Stars: Chazz Palminteri, Karel Roden, Johnny Messner, Ivana Milicevic, Alex Neuberger, Bruce Altman, Elizabeth Mitchell, John Noble
Director: Wayne Kramer

MPAA Rating: R for pervasive strong brutal violence and language, sexuality, and drug content
Run Time: 02h:02m:18s
Release Date: 2006-06-06
Genre: action

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A B+AA+ B-


DVD Review

When you think about it, fairy tales are pretty gruesome things to share with young children. If you go with the old-school Brothers Grimm versions, you've got Little Red Riding Hood eaten alive, Cinderella's sisters slicing off hunks of their feet, and giants who favor bread made with ground bones. Director Wayne Kramer, who made the feel-good Vegas dramedy The Cooler a few years back, obviously understands this. Based on the premise alone—small-time hood must cover his tracks before his criminal cohorts catch up with him—Running Scared may seem like your typical thriller, but it's really an updated story of a little boy who is lost in a dark and spooky forest, where dangerous creatures lurk and terrible things happen children.

The little boy in this case is 10-year-old Oleg (Cameron Bright), who lives next door to Joey Gazelle (Paul Walker) and his family. Joey is a clean-up man for the local mob, responsible for disposing of weapons that have done very bad things. Except he doesn't ditch the guns so much as hides them in his basement, and one day, his son is down there playing with Oleg when they come across the stash. Oleg, whose heavily bruised back gives you an idea of what his home life is like, steals one of them. Unfortunately, it's the one that was used to plug a corrupt cop.

Oleg's step-dad is Anzor (Karel Roden), a Russian immigrant who grew up watching John Wayne's The Cowboys over and over, a thousand times. But it was a short version, made safe for children, and it didn't include Wayne's climactic demise. Anzor came to America, saw the entire movie, and realized he was living in a world where heroes die. The discovery has left him bitter and abusive. But Oleg has had enough, watched his mother, a former prostitute, beaten up once too often. He shoots Anzor and takes off into the night.

The rest of the movie is a ferocious, blood-spattered journey through an urban jungle. Joey has to find Oleg and get the gun back before his bosses (or the cops) find it. Oleg, meanwhile, is the one stuck in a fairy tale, but instead of the big bad wolf, he's chased by a sadistic pimp. Instead of a good fairy, he meets a hooker with a heart of gold. And the witch in a gingerbread house seems tame compared to a pair of pedophiles (Bruce Altman and Elizabeth Mitchell) who lure children into a candy-colored penthouse stocked with toys and videogames and devour them in more ways than one. Other people to avoid in dark alleys: Joey's ruthless boss, played by character actor Arthur Nascarella, and a dirty cop (Chazz Palminteri) who recognizes Oleg's gun and has a pretty good idea where he got it. Vera Farmiga plays Joey's wife, a role that goes far waiting on the sidelines for the man to come to the rescue, a payoff too good to spoil.

There is a plot here, but it doesn't really matter all that much. Just know that things start out badly, and keep getting worse, both for Joey and for Oleg. Saying it goes over-the-top is an understatement (Roger Ebert mused that it goes so far over the top, it circumnavigates the top and goes over it again); by the time Oleg's prostitute friend helps him refill an asthma prescription at gunpoint, you pretty much know if this is a movie for you or not. A lot of people are killed along the way, and the gore is sudden and intense, with little of the comedic excess of Kill Bill, to which many will liken it. The sexuality is almost as graphic, at least in Hollywood terms (it's not for nothing the film's online marketing included, I kid you not, an oral sex videogame). But it's also been put together with a lot of technical skill—the computer-aided editing is stylish but never distracting, and the cinematography has a sort of gritty elegance.

This is not a film designed for deep thoughts and serious conversation afterward; like many thrillers, the plot sort of falls apart if you overanalyze it. On a gut level, though, it sticks with you—watching it can be a pretty harrowing experience, and I'm still thinking about those soulless pedophiles several days later. There's something to be said for a movie that can do that to an audience, whatever its other merits. And even if you don't agree that this is a gloriously gonzo exercise in exploitation, you have to admit, Kramer knows how to mess with your head.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: This dark and gritty film looks fantastic on DVD. Colors are lurid and saturated and blacks are rich and deep. Dark scenes show excellent detail, while the image as a whole is solid and free from grain, artifacts, and edge enhancement.

Image Transfer Grade: A

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
DTSEnglish 6.1 ESyes

Audio Transfer Review: The disc offers DD 5.1 and DTS 6.1 mixes. Both sound great, but the addition of the rear center in the DTS mix is an obvious advantage, because this is a track that makes good use of all the channels. Dialogue comes across clearly even as the action circles the room, with gunshots blasting from all directions. Even during quiet moments, the surrounds are used subtly to provide atmosphere and amp up the tension.

Audio Transfer Grade: A+ 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 21 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Blade: The Series, Cyber Wars
1 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Wayne Kramer
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Wayne Kramer's storyboards
  2. Comic book
Extras Review: Whether the film's theatrical vanishing act had anything to do with it or not, the DVD is a little light on bonus features, but there are a few goodies for the fans.

Director Wayne Kramer chatters non-stop in his feature commentary, finding a nice balance between talking about the story themes, technical details (the trick editing involved some near-invisible CGI), and behind-the-scenes tidbits. If you appreciate what he was trying to do with this movie, you'll probably want to hear what he has to say.

An 18-minute making-of is a little on the short side, but it provides a decent, fluff-free look at the production. There are also storyboards for a few sequences drawn by Kramer himself, the trailer, and a special insert that translates the bloody climax at the ice rink into a handy, graphic-novel format.

Extras Grade: B-

Final Comments

A surreal, violent fairy tale of a thriller, Wayne Kramer's Running Scared will probably split audiences right down the middle (er, not literally, though you have to watch out with this one). Substance-free but stylish and certainly not stupid, it's nevertheless got a certain everything-and-the-kitchen-sink style you'll either love (Demonic pedophiles! Sadistic pimps! Crooked cops! Buckets of blood!) or loathe (Demonic pedophiles? Sadistic pimps? Crooked cops? Buckets of blood?). Thus, it's sure to become a cult classic.

Joel Cunningham 2006-06-28