The Crushed Film Festival presents: The Runner
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.
Tags: Anthony Zuiker bad screenplay no biscuit Bokeem Woodbine Courteney Cox ER Joe Mantegna John Goodman movies Ron Eldard Sun Tzu's The Art Of Bore The Crushed Film Festival