There are two distinct breeds of screen violence. The first - let's call it "good" violence - is necessitated by story. The shootout on the Western street and Janet Leigh getting it in the shower are excellent examples. The second - the "bad" violence - actually drives the plot and gives a movie its reason for being. Any number of exploitative slasher film executions fall into this category, as does most of the interesting, but flawed, Running Scared.
An urban fairy tale that combines equal parts Brothers Grimm and Mean Streets, the film stars the always-uninspiring Paul Walker as a low-level mob soldier who spends a night chasing down an incriminating gun and the boy (Cameron Bright) who might or might not be in possession of it.
The film's never-quite-connecting episodes seem less like opportunities for exposition than convenient moments for a knife, bullets or fists to graphically fly.
The film is made more frustrating by its few authentically interesting, and chilling, moments. A dark standoff between an angry mother (Vera Farmiga) and a pair of truly evil child pornographers (played with terrifying blandness by Bruce Altman and Elizabeth Mitchell) is a spectacular piece of production design, coupled with great slow-burn performances. Likewise, a soliloquy by a John Wayne-infatuated Russian mobster rings with the sort of originality often found in the best work of Quentin Tarantino.
Wayne Kramer (who also directed the superior sleeper The Cooler) doesn't possess Mr. Tarantino's understanding of story and character or the effective use of violence. Instead of producing a product that holds an audience in awe, he offers Running Scared, which only shocks.
And that's not nearly enough.
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TITLE: Running Scared (New Line Home Video; $27.98)
THE VERDICT: * * out of * * * * *
DVD EXTRAS: Pretty bare bones, the highlight is the meticulous storyboards that Wayne Kramer used before filming his first frame. They present Running Scared as a movie that wasn't so much written as designed, a very uncommon approach.