Jimmy Smits is pretty good in Running Scared. He’s a believable bad guy, intimidating even.
I don’t know why I’m opening with Smits, maybe because I’m in a good mood and want to be generous with praise for an unlikely recipient.
Running Scared is a delightful action comedy; I didn’t realize how much I missed the genre until I watched this film again. I haven’t seen it in years–I think I watched my laserdisc copy once before the advent of DVD and it didn’t impress me as much as I thought it would, seeing it widescreen. I hope I’m remembering the details wrong, because Peter Hyams was such a great mainstream director, it’d be a shame if I was such a foolish youth I didn’t appreciate it. Running Scared is it for Hyams–after this one, he cooked one turkey after another. But this film has such wonderful direction–Hyams doesn’t just know how to compose a Panavision frame, he also knows how to do an action scene in one. He knows how to move the camera. Running Scared is a great example of the lost art of action direction. It’s got a distinctive style all its own (it doesn’t look like a bevy of nondescript music videos) with Hyams really making the Chicago locations (and Florida ones) essential to the picture.
Hyams is responsible for the film’s (effortless) artistry in filmmaking–I always forget the guy hasn’t always been a punch line (and his much maligned cinematography is quite good in Running Scared). But the film’s a success because of stars Gregory Hines and Billy Crystal (I kept thinking, as the film progressed, they had a stupid argument at one point but they never do, their friendship’s always perfectly in pitch–I was waiting for this imaginary scene as a pitfall… maybe it’s a post-end credit scene or something). They each have fabulous dialogue (the screenwriters went on to nothing else of note, which makes me suspiciously Hines and Crystal might have ad-libbed some of it or there’s some fine comedy writers who anonymously doctored their material) and Hyams, who never made another good comedy, knows how to cut it all together. This long conversation they have, cut into different scenes, works beautifully.
Running Scared is an example of a film excited with itself. It offers its audience a 107 minute diversion and it knows it’s working (if the film weren’t connecting with the characters and the humor throughout, it wouldn’t be able to carry itself to the conclusion, which is one of its major successes).
Hines and Crystal create these personalities–they’re characters too, but they’re somehow different. It’s a mix of characterization and comedic personality… like Crystal and Hines did a bunch of movies together (but they only did this one) playing these types. Running Scared feels like they must have done more; it’s a shame they didn’t.
The supporting cast is uniformly solid. They don’t have a lot to do (Crystal’s love interest, a fourth billed Darlanne Fluegel, is simply a blonde ex-wife, while Hines’s, played by Tracy Reed, gets to create a fuller character), but they’re good. Dan Hedaya is sturdy as the boss, Joe Pantoliano is sturdy as a scum bag–these are early examples of the roles both would go on to play for years (though Pantoliano doesn’t make quite the impression he made as Guido the Killer Pimp).
Running Scared was more than a pleasant surprise–about a half hour in I realized it was a heck of a lot better than I remembered it being. It’s just too bad about Peter Hyams though. He never should have left MGM.