Dir/scr: Wayne Kramer. US-Ger. 2006. 122mins.
Film-maker Wayne Kramer follows up hisOscar-nominated film noir The Cooler withRunning Scared, a hyper-charged,ultra-violent thriller that opens in frantic fashion and never slows down.

While Kramer succeeds insetting a relentless narrative pace and shows plenty of flair for stagingbloody set-pieces, his sledgehammer approach has obvious drawbacks. He is sobusy trying to crank up the tension that he pays scant attention tocharacterisation. Certainly there is no performance here as rich and ambivalentas that given by William H Macy in Kramer's previous feature.

By raising the ante so highso early, Kramer risks blowing his hand, and the shoot-out that starts the filmis so extreme that anything that follows cannot help but risk seeminganti-climactic and repetitive. Nor does the plot, with its digressions,improbabilities and multiple twists, hang together coherently.

Nonetheless, like the Bgangster movies Hollywood used to make in a different era, Running Scared is vivid and sometimes ingenious fare. Kramer'soperatic approach to violence recalls the early work of Martin Scorsese (inparticular, Mean Streets) and ofTarantino, while the emphasis on the professionalism of the gangsters evokesmemories of Michael Mann's Thief and Heat. Whatever its failings, the filmhas a demented energy.

Released in the UK withoutfanfare through Entertainment in early January, Running Scared posted only moderate returns in a busy market thatalso saw the debuts of Match Pointand Brokeback Mountain (its US release on Feb 24should see more forgiving competition). Its performance on ancillary should bemore robust: certainly connoisseurs of macho, hyperbolic thrillers will enjoythemselves so long as they do not ponder too closely the shortcomings in Kramer'sscreenplay.

Joey Gazelle (Paul Walker)is a gangster with a hoard of weaponry hidden in his loft. His next-doorneighbour is Anzor (the gimlet-eyed Karel Roden), a crazed,drug-addicted, wife-beating psychopath with links to the Russian mob and a hugetattoo of John Wayne on his back.

This madman's step-son Oleg(Cameron Bright) is best pals with Joey's kid. Joey's problems begin - and theplot is set in motion in earnest - when Oleg tries to kill his stepfather witha snub-nosed, silver revolver he stole from Joey's secret hoard. This gun is"hot." If it falls into police hands, Joey will pay the price with his ownmobster associates.

Initially Joey proves an unsympatheticcharacter who, like everyone else in Kramer's shady,neo-noir world - from Chazz Palminteri'ssleazy cop to the Russian Mafia - seems an utter low-life. Kramer tries to makethe audience root for him by sketching in his family life - his lovingrelationship with his wife Teresa (Vera Farmiga) andson Nicky - but one of the central problems the film faces is its mainprotagonist is undistinguishable from the "bad guys".

The plot hinges on Joey'ssearch for the missing gun and in this Kramer is helped by Cameron Bright's performance as the kid on the run. As he showed inJonathan Glazer's Birth, Bright has atoughness and defiance that many other child star's lack. In his night-timeodyssey around the city, he comes into contact with pimps, prostitutes, drugaddicts, gangsters and even - in one of the film's strangest digressions - apair of yuppie paedophiles. Somehow, he keeps his composure throughout.

Kramer shows noembarrassment about trading in overblown gangster movie cliches.Every script point and set-up, from Oleg's asthma to the scenes of mobsters chewingthe fat in an all-night diner, has a vaguely second-hand feel. The film-makersclearly hope that the sheer ferocity of the storytelling will blind audiencesto the basic lack of originality in plotting and characterisation. The editingand cinematography are edgy and elliptical. The camera never seems to be stillfor an instant and there are constant jarring cuts.

Yet amid all the bombast,Kramer throws in some clever touches. These range from Joey hiding a bulletcasing by picking it up with a piece of chewing gum he has stuck on his footfor the purpose to the scenes of Anzor repeatedly watchingthe moment in Mark Rydell's The Cowboys when John Wayne is shot in the back by Bruce Dern.

Having traded in so manybloody, hyper-charged scenes already, Kramer goes into over-drive for the finalshoot-out, staged on an ice rink. As Joey has the puck smashed into his face - andtwo mobster bosses gouge, bite and generally dismember one another - the filmskirts dangerously close to self-parody.

Even more baffling is thecoda, in which the bloodied Joey drives Oleg home in what seems to be his dyingthroes. The happy ever after final scene that follows is preposterous butentirely in keeping with what has gone before.

Production companies
Media 8 Entertainment
International Production Company
True Grit Productions
VIP 1+2 Medienfonds
VIP 2 Medienfonds

US distribution
New Line

International sales
Media 8

Executive producers
Andrew Pfeffer
Andrea Grosch
Andreas Schmid
Matt Luber
Stewart Hall

Michael Pierce
Brett Ratner
Sammy Lee

Jim Whitaker

Production design
Toby Corbett

Arthur Coburn

Mark Isham

Main cast
Paul Walker
Cameron Bright
Vera Farmiga
Chazz Palminteri