Tag Archives: Jimmy Smits

Running Scared (1986, Peter Hyams)

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.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Peter Hyams; screenplay by Gary DeVore and Jimmy Huston, based on a story by DeVore; director of photography, Hyams; edited by James Mitchell; music by Rod Temperton; production designer, Albert Brenner; produced by David Foster and Lawrence Turman; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Gregory Hines (Ray Hughes), Billy Crystal (Danny Costanzo), Darlanne Fluegel (Anna Costanzo), Joe Pantoliano (Snake), Dan Hedaya (Captain Logan), Steven Bauer (Det. Frank Sigliano), Jon Gries (Det. Tony Montoya), Tracy Reed (Maryann), Jimmy Smits (Julio Gonzales), John DiSanti (Vinnie), Larry Hankin (Ace) and Don Calfa (Women’s Room Lawyer).


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Vital Signs (1990, Marisa Silver)

I’d forgotten grown men used to wear cut-off, midriff-revealing shirts. Adrian Pasdar does in the final scene of Vital Signs. It’s horrifying.

Pasdar also bulks up throughout the picture, maybe for his shirtless scenes in the late second act, or for that closing shot.

And even though Vital Signs is tripe, another failed studio attempt to launch a new Brat Pack, Pasdar’s a decent leading man. He’s not always good, but he’s probably only got three bad scenes–a miracle, given the script and his co-stars. He runs the movie well. So well, in fact, he even out night-time soaps special guest star (sorry, it’s a “with” credit, I forgot) William Devane. Actually, Devane’s brief appearance is a disappointment, as he gives it with less forcefulness than he would an Altoids commercial.

The supporting cast has one big surprise (well, two, if discovering Jane Adams had a Happiness career counts)–Jimmy Smits isn’t terrible. He even exhibits some potential.

Adams is good but the movie ignores her romance with her (formerly) platonic roommate Tim Ransom to the point it almost forgets them. Ransom’s the goofy late 1980s guys who wears hats (Corey Feldman was busy, I imagine) but he’s not bad. Laura San Giacomo and Jack Gwaltney are both awful. Even though San Giacomo smiles a lot and Gwaltney doesn’t at all, neither exhibit any emotion. Diane Lane–as Pasdar’s love interest–is unintentionally hilarious. She doesn’t seem intelligent enough to get a pizza order right, much less be a doctor. In a pivotal role, Norma Aleandro fails (and it hurts the movie a little).

Bradley Whitford’s kind of funny in a small role. Vital Signs is during his jerk phase.

What’s strange about the movie is the direction. Marisa Silver is far from radical, but she does a really sturdy job with it. And given the terrible Miles Goodman score (lots of guitar), it’s an accomplishment. She’s better than the script, which is laughable.

Watching Vital Signs, the biggest surprise is how long it took Pasdar to find a successful hour-long drama job. If anything, it shows how natural he’d be at one.

Maybe everyone remembered the midriff-revealing, baby blue sweatshirt.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Marisa Silver; screenplay by Larry Ketron and Jeb Stuart, based on a story by Ketron; director of photography, John Lindley; edited by Robert Brown and Danford B. Greene; music by Miles Goodman; production designer, Todd Hallowell; produced by Laurie Perlman and Cathleen Summers; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Adrian Pasdar (Michael Chatham), Diane Lane (Gina Wyler), Jack Gwaltney (Kenny Rose), Laura San Giacomo (Lauren Rose), Jane Adams (Suzanne Maloney), Tim Ransom (Bobby Hayes), Bradley Whitford (Dr. Donald Ballentine), Lisa Jane Persky (Bobby), William Devane (Dr. Chatham), Norma Aleandro (Henrietta Walker) and Jimmy Smits (Dr. David Redding).


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