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Home » Culture and Criticism

The Crushed Film Festival presents: The Runner

Submitted by on June 21, 2010 – 4:50 PM21 Comments

The Movie: The Runner

The Crush Object: Ron Eldard

The Story: Compulsive gambler Edward (Eldard), who has obviously chosen to continue living in Las Vegas, gets a job through his Uncle Rocco (Joe Mantegna) as a runner for Deepthroat (John Goodman), a gambling kingpin with a taste for contrived cruelty. Deepthroat's rules seem pretty simple — don't dip into the take; don't tell anyone Deepthroat's bets — but it turns out the job's a set-up to punish Rocco, and Edward is screwed whether he follows the rules or not. Meanwhile, Edward has fallen for cocktail waitress Karina (Courteney Cox) and hopes to make a life with her and their unborn baby. Can he stick to the straight-and-narrow and protect his family? Or will it all go horribly wrong?

It's that second thing, in more ways than one. The Runner is bad, and its occasional glints of promise make it seem even worse. Edward and Karina's blind date goes disastrously wrong (flooring it in the car because he desperately has to poo, he gets pulled over, and winds up shitting himself anyway), but he emerges from a gas-station bathroom afterwards accompanied by a boom-chicka soul track — to find Karina wearing Lil Tree car deodorizers as earrings. It's a cute moment, but it doesn't explain why Edward didn't just pull over and excuse himself in the first place — or what Karina sees in Edward generally. The normally charming Eldard can't do much with this character, a poorly coiffed bookmark who has no organic attributes, except perhaps looking anxious and not understanding statistics, and who makes self-destructive choices for no apparent reason.

He's also obligated to hock up dialoogeys in voice-over such as, "For me, [Vegas] wasn't a place to cleanse my sins, but rather feed the beast." Oh. …Wait, what? Most of the ensemble is utterly defeated by the crappy writing. Mantegna, before one of Deepthroat's elaborate reprisals turns him into kibble, is saddled with a thankless monologue on every Sin City cliché we already know, prating on about the lack of clocks and the house's advantage. Maybe he's playing the character as a jumpy guy, but it seems more likely that he rushed through his lines each day, frantic to leave and fire his agent. Bokeem Woodbine, evidently repaying an extremely large favor of some sort by playing a character named, no kidding, "477," seems unaware that the camera has been turned on.

Screenwriter Anthony Zuiker (yes, that one) fails on all counts: dialogue, credibility, pacing. I don't understand why Hollywood believes, or expects the audience to believe, that crime lords have the time or the inclination to fuck with people so extensively. A man who harvests black-widow poison by hand is either too crazy or too bad at managing his time to last as a leader in illegal enterprise; Deepthroat spends an inordinate amount of time strolling around his workspace and delivering bad mash-ups of Bukowski and Sun Tzu…when he's not daring his employees with riddles, or dispatching them to conferences in the pointedly figurative Nevada desert.

The script does a poor job balancing the love story and the gambling plot, and had it focused on only one, or made Deepthroat less baroque, a capable B-movie might have resulted. Eldard does have a few good moments as the lying addict, and Cox, whom I don't ordinarily care for, is focused but sweet. But when Edward buys Karina a tacky engagement ring in a jenky pawn shop using 8K of Deepthroat's precious money, it's hard to know what to think: awesome and romantic? or suicidally stupid? The movie doesn't seem to know either.

The Runner has no idea what it's trying to do, so it tries to do everything, and succeeds at nothing. The convoluted contrivances that have served Zuiker relatively well on the CSIs don't work here, which makes the puddle-deep characterizations that much more obvious.

The Backstory: I first noticed Ron Eldard as Carol's paramedic boyfriend Shep on ER, and he's Exhibit A of the kind of actor I tend to get crushes on — not a leading man, and therefore difficult to gaze upon at length in embarrassing rentals. (But not impossible…sadly. Shut up, Ghost Ship.) I get the sense from this and other poor choices (the horrible Blind Justice, for one, and yes, I watched every episode) that Eldard, eager to prove himself in that capacity, leaps at these bigger parts before he looks.

Here, he's styled unflatteringly, and spends the last half of the movie sweating; sporting an unsightly head bandage; or bleeding down the side of his face from the bullet wound he self-inflicted via cinderblock ricochet. And…survived. So, that's…what we're dealing with.

The Embarrassment Level: Eldard is an acquired taste, I guess, but not embarrassing per se, and while the movie is awful, I'm guessing you'd never heard of it before now. So: 2.5.

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  • Laura says:

    OMG, Sars. "Hock up dialoogeys"? Where is the Funny as Hell Hall of Fame and how do we nominate you?

  • Jenny says:

    Eldard was quite good (albeit an odd role) in House of Sand and Fog. I do remember that I loved his paramedic character on ER…so sad when his partner died!

  • tuliptoe says:

    I did always like him as Shep. Ooh! @Jenny, I heard that from a friend as well. She was very complimentary of his role in that. I still haven't seen it due to not wanting to be crushingly depressed with my films lately. :)

    My "not a leading man" big crush is Donal Logue. Also on ER and I've seen many a questionable movie (Ghostrider, Reindeer Games, yikes!) and TV show (the Practice, Grounded for Life) just to watch him. I get a big goofy smile on my face just thinking of him. I might break out Ghostrider on DVD tonight. What? Shut up! It also has Sam Elliot so maybe I get a pass for that?

  • Sandman says:

    I'm with Laura: that quote from the movie and the two sentences nearest it are going on your nomination form, as soon as we find it.

    Eldard is a likable presence onscreen (usually) and, I think, a pretty solid actor. I HATED "The Real Sunglasses of Justice," as it was called on the TWoP Forums, but Eldard gets a lifetime pass from me for Shep, and more specifically for that scene with Raul – you know the one.

  • Sandman says:

    Also: the line you quote should tell us everything we need to know about Zuiker as "writer." Gawd.

  • Chris says:

    @tuliptoe: I have Ghostrider on DVD (regular AND directors cut) and yes, Sam Elliot gets you a pass. Though I bought it for Wes Bentley, who is so terrible in it but, alas, still hot.

    And I totally watched all of Blind Justice, too.

  • SarahW says:

    I nominate Mystery, Alaska for another "only worth watching if you're in love with Ron Eldard" type movie.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @SarahW: Oh, it's in the CFF queue. He plays a guy named "Skank" and I STILL rented it.

  • Elizabeth says:

    Shut up, Ghost Ship is AWESOME.

    … okay, it has ten minutes of utter and total awesome, and theeeeeen there's the rest of it. Always a pity to see obvious signs of diabolical creativity in an otherwise bland and/or cringeworthy potboiler (see also: Johnny Mnemonic.)

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    @tuliptoe, Tao of Steve. Nuff said.

    I have never dreamed the existence of this movie before reading this post, but just the description of the scene involving our leading man walking by a LV pawnshop, seeing grandma's sparkly cubic zirconia nightmare, and cheerfully handing over eight grand of dirty money for it makes me pull the "I'm Done" lever. This is not the pony to bet on, even in Vegas, Courtney.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    And wait, isn't Mystery, Alaska that hockey coach movie with Russell Crowe? Twice the embarrassment for one low price!

  • Rachel says:

    Ooh, I have a thing for Donal Logue too, to the point where I watched every episode of "The Knights of Prosperity" TWICE. He's also in Sneakers (a totally under-rated movie) playing completely against type and it's unintentionally hilarious.

    As for Eldard, well… I sat through Drop Dead Fred. In the theater. Three times.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    All y'all Loguettes: my crush on him passed, but I too watched KoP in its entirety just for him. I also loved the theme song (even though it was like two bars long).

    He's outstanding in Zodiac as well, despite the dowdy styling. A lot of it is his voice.

  • SarahW says:

    Hurrah, I am glad "Mystery, Alaska" made the CFF cut. It's actually quite full of eye candy, come to think of it. I even had a pervy crush on the hockey phenom kid who was likely all of 17 or 18 when the film was made, and came in his pants before he could get it on with his teen girlfriend. I'm over here all "potentially underage and a premature ejaculator? What a dreamboat!"

    I clearly need help. I've seen that movie like 8 times.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    I'm over here all "potentially underage and a premature ejaculator? What a dreamboat!"


  • Grainger says:

    "For me, [Vegas] wasn't a place to cleanse my sins, but rather feed the beast."

    This is the kind of line that only works if it's a voice-over line spoken while a heavily-CGI'ed Mickey Rourke punches through a wall.

    (Did anyone else, while watching Sin City, create in their head a sort of fantasy version that had Mickey Rourke, Bruce Willis, Clive Owen, and Michael Clarke Duncan team up and then the movie becomes this weird take on the Fantastic Four?)


    (well, anyway, my fantasy movie was pretty cool, sorry you guys didn't see it.)

  • The Donal Logue crush fest reminded me of two quite embarrassing things, One, my crush on Stephen Dorff which was at his height during Blade and which sadly plummeted after the whole Pamela Anderson thing (and plummeted even more after the Steve-O thing). But before that, i watched everything and I do mean everything he was in. The bad made for TV movie where he found out he was adopted and that he might've been kidnapped. The crappy movie where he travels across the country to save a girl he has a crush on because he thinks she's kidnapped, but it turns out she isn't kidnaped and he made the trip for nothing. Cecil B. Demented (somebody owes me for that one. Hard). "Help. I'm stuck in a K hole and can't get out" Oh Adrian Granier, you scamp you.

    My other embarrassing thing. I have some weird obsession with Patton Oswalt. No, I don't understand it either. And it's not a crush per say, but it's like I can't say no. Tell me he wasn't the best parts of The Dollhouse eps he was in or isn't somehow the most likeable character on United States of Tara next to Marshall (Moosh!)

  • The Hoobie says:

    Oh, MAN. Wrong blog entry and comments to read with a mouthful of Diet Coke!!

    "…from the bullet wound he self-inflicted via cinderblock ricochet."

    And then SarahW's whole comment. Phew!

    SarahW: I hear you on the skeevy underage crush thing; I remember watching the 2nd or 3rd Harry Potter movie and fleetingly thinking, "Hey, that Daniel Radcliffe's turning out pretty hot!" and then immediately wanting to dunk my head in a bucket of cold water from SHAME. I think he was 15 at the time, and could have literally been my son. Yiiiiikes! (And strangely, I find that he hasn't actually turned out as hot as it looked like he was going to. Oh well. Saves me from continuing to be Creepy Old Lady with Crush on Harry Potter, bleah.)

    And Sars, I second both the specific Eldard crush and your general tendency to get crushes on non-leading-man types (neat to hear from other people who have that "problem"). My current big crush is on a guy from Battlestar Galactica who isn't the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, or even sixth actor any reasonable person might guess it is.

  • The Hoobie says:

    Ooo, Bloody Munchkin! Patton Oswalt! I completely agree. It's not a crush per se, I just think he's interesting and really underrated. Did you see him on Lewis Black's short-lived debate series? (The name of which completely escapes me; I'm too lazy to IMDb it.) He was fantastic on that.

  • @The Hoobie. Thank goodness I'm not the only one. The reason I started really liking him was his Comedy Central special and he used the following line "Hey chill out! I'm taking you to Mordor but I'll bring you back to The Shire." That right there was dorky enough to solidify my obsession. And I know I'm one of four people who saw him in Dollhouse but "It's small, made of wood, you put a boy doll and a girl doll in there and talk about your urges" Or something to that affect was the best line read ever. He held his own against Tahmoh Penikett and that does not seem like an easy thing to do.

  • Sandman says:

    Tell me [Oswalt] wasn't the best parts of The Dollhouse eps he was in …

    Oh, co-signed! Other than the bit where they blew up that one guy Echo might have been sweet on, he totally was. Good times.

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