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Running Scared

A Bloody Mess

Running Scared is a frenetic exercise in style, an ultra-violent fantasy so over-the-top and awash with fake blood that it would make even Quentin Tarantino blush. Set in a fictional New Jersey wasteland appropriately dubbed Grimley, it envisions a chaotic world of mobsters, drug addicts, pedophiles and their long-suffering victims. If anyone's happy, they don't show it.

At the center of this world is Joey (Paul Walker), a younger, dumber version of The Wolf from Pulp Fiction. He's a cleanup guy for the mob, and when his associates unwittingly kill an undercover cop, it's his responsibility to hide the (literally) smoking gun. Joey cleverly stashes it away in the last place anyone would think to look -- his basement. Bad move. Joey's son, Nicky (Alex Neuberger), and his creepy neighborhood friend, Oleg (Cameron Bright), soon recover it, and before long the body count begins to rise, starting with Oleg's meth-addicted stepfather, who just happens to be a sadistic Russian gangster.

Thus, the chase begins. Joey, an upstanding sort despite his criminal leanings, is charged with the task of finding Oleg and the incriminating pistol before the rest of the Grimley community lands in the morgue. That's not as simple as it sounds. In the course of one excruciatingly long night, Joey butts heads with a colorful cast of pimps and trigger-happy mobsters whose body parts explode with alarming frequency. On the homefront, his tough-as-nails wife, Teresa (Vera Farmiga), enjoys a relatively quiet evening, marred only by a run-in with a group of child pornographers.

Paul Walker, who has been upstaged in his most celebrated films by Vin Diesel (The Fast and The Furious) and a pack of dogs (Eight Below), is hardly the most expressive actor in movies today, and his tough-guy turn in Running Scared is unlikely to earn him Oscar consideration. More effective is Farmiga, whose fiery performance injects the right dose of passion into the proceedings.

But the real star of the show is writer-director Wayne Kramer (The Cooler), whose script is bursting with manic energy and disquieting ugliness. To be sure, Running Scarred is a jarring spectacle driven by gratuitous gore and not much else. And yet, despite its utter lack of substance, it remains the guiltiest of pleasures. There's little below the blood-soaked surface of this supremely flawed slice of film noir, but the thrill of the chase is still something to behold.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars