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Running Scared is a 2006 crime film written and directed by Wayne Kramer and released by New Line Cinema. The film stars Paul Walker, Cameron Bright, Vera Farmiga, Chazz Palminteri, Alex Neuberger (in his film debut) and Johnny Messner. It was released in the United Statesmarker on February 24, 2006. It received mostly mixed reviews.


The movie begins with Joey Gazelle (Paul Walker) driving with a boy, Oleg Yugorsky (Cameron Bright). Oleg has a blood stain on his shirt, implying that he had been shot. The rest of the movie flashes back to the events that led up to this point. Joey, a low-level mafioso, is attending a drug deal with his boss Tommy (Johnny Messner) and associate Sal when masked men burst in and try to steal the drugs and money. Shots are fired and several of the masked men are killed and the leader flees. Tommy discovers that the men were dirty cops. As the mobsters flee in a panic, Tommy gives the murder weapons to Joey, telling him to get rid of them.

Rather than dispose of the guns, Joey goes home to his wife Teresa (Vera Farmiga) and son Nicky (Alex Neuberger), and hides the guns in the basement while Nicky and his friend from next door, Oleg, secretly watch. Oleg returns home to his abusive stepfather, Anzor Yugorsky (Karel Roden), the outcast nephew of the Russian mob boss, Yugorsky, and battered mother, Mila (Ivana Miličević). When Anzor becomes belligerent towards Oleg, Oleg shoots him with a nickel-plated .38 that he had stolen from Joey's basement. Next door, the Gazelle family is disrupted by the gunshots and Joey rushes next door. He finds Anzor wounded, and Oleg gone.

Oleg runs to a nearby park, where he is caught by a homeless man, who takes his gun and drags him to a drug dealer's den. Joey and Nicky follow, trying to find him. The drug dealers and the homeless man start shooting at one another, alerting Joey and giving Oleg time to escape with the gun. Oleg runs until he finds a pimp smacking around one of his prostitutes. When the pimp pulls a knife, Oleg pulls his gun on him. But when he tried to fire, he finds the gun empty. However, the prostitute knocks the pimp unconscious and, as she prepares to run, notices Oleg coughing. Endebted to him, she takes him to a pharmacy to get him an inhaler. When the pharmacist refuses, she draws the gun and gets the inhaler at gunpoint.

Meanwhile, the surviving dirty cop, Rydell (Chazz Palminteri), informs Tommy that Joey has lost the gun, and that it is out on the street, in the hands of Oleg. Joey goes to meet the boss of the Italian mob, Frankie Perello (Arthur J. Nascarella), at a diner (leaving Nicky in the car outside), to say that the gun used to shoot Anzor was not from the shootout with the cops. Frankie says that he wants Oleg found, because Frankie and Yugorsky are working together on a 'gasoline deal', and he wants them to remain in good standing.Outside, Nicky notices Oleg and the prostitute entering the same diner, and goes after them. Together, Nicky and Oleg stash the gun in the tank of a toilet. Oleg leaves and tries to convince the prostitute to drive him out of town. He is caught by the police and, when he lies to Rydell about where he got the gun, is released into his stepfather's custody.

Back at home, Teresa tries to convince Mila to go to a shelter. Mila tells her that she was a prostitute in Moscow who was brought over by Yugorsky. She became pregnant and refused to have an abortion, so Yugorsky sent Anzor to kill her. Instead he married her in order to give her protection.

Anzor takes Oleg to an ice cream parlor and attempts to get him to reveal the gun's location. Oleg runs away, climbing into a parked van. Oleg is found there by a married couple, Dez (Bruce Altman) and Edele (Elizabeth Mitchell), who take him along with two other children back to their apartment. Oleg is taken to a large playroom filled with various assortments of toys and a camera, and notices Dez and Edele exhibiting odd behavior. He complains of an upset stomach and is directed to a bathroom. Oleg tries to escape the apartment, but instead finds Edele's purse by the door. He takes her cellphone and hides it as Edele finds him. She guides him to the bathroom, where he locks the door and calls Teresa Gazelle as surreal shadows of long-fingered monsters dance on the wall behind him. Upon hearing the situation, Teresa prompts him to find a prescription bottle with the apartment's address, and promises to come get him, as Dez and Edele begin to try and force their way into the bathroom. Oleg hides the phone and flushes the toilet as the couple burst into the bathroom.

Teresa drives out to the apartment and knocks on the door. Behind the playroom door, Edele instructs Dez to take the kids back to the bedroom before emerging in nothing more than a robe. Edele opens the door and Teresa tells her that Oleg called her from that address. When Edele deflects, Teresa threatens to call the police. Edele allows Teresa inside. Searching through the entirety of the apartment, including the bedroom where Edele's "two children" lie in bed asleep, Teresa finds no trace of Oleg; however, as she exits the apartment, she comes to a realization and roughly forces herself back in, pointing out that there was not a single photograph of their children in the whole house. Edele panics and says that they were just moving in and that everything was still in storage as Teresa rushes back into the playroom. Dez threatens to call the police on her, to which Teresa responds that they might as well explain the two abducted children in their apartment while they were at it. Teresa pulls a gun, yelling at them to tell her where Oleg is. Terrified, Dez silently indicates a closet in the playroom. Teresa opens it to find Oleg, his hands tied and a plastic bag wrapped around his head. Teresa keeps the two adults at bay with her gun as she tries to revive Oleg with CPR. Oleg comes to and Teresa frees him with a surgical instrument. Keeping the gun on the adults, Teresa instructs Oleg to get the two other children from the bedroom. Dez offers Teresa a hundred thousand dollars in diamonds from their safe as long as she just takes Oleg and leaves. Ignoring him, Teresa pushes through the closet, finding child costumes and plastic body bags and, behind eveything, shelves of DVD cases with children's names on them. At the bottom of the closet are more surgical instruments, and Teresa notices that the playroom floor is completely covered in plastic. Horrified, Teresa demands Dez's phone and calls the police, reporting that she hearing gunshots at the apartment's address. She hangs up and shoots Dez and Edele.

Joey continues to search for the gun, tracking it to the mechanic, only to find out that he'd sold it to the pimp that attacked Oleg. Joey picks up Oleg to go and retrieve it, but as Joey is about to make his move, Tommy and Sal confront them. They strong-arm Joey into meeting them at an abandoned train yard. The men get out, leaving Oleg in the car. Tommy, seemingly intent on killing Joey for his screw-up, ends up shooting Sal in the head. Tommy explains that Sal had been arrested before, and had walked as an informant. He then makes a call to Rydell, activating a bomb in the cop's bag, killing him. Tommy then drives Oleg to a hockey rink, prompting Joey to follow, where they meet the New Jersey and Russian mob bosses, along with Anzor. Joey is knocked over and held down onto the ice, where Russian hockey players shoot pucks at his face. Yugorsky demands that Oleg tell them where he got the gun. When he lies, the boss of the Russian mob orders Anzor to kill Oleg. Joey pleads for them not to do it, and Anzor hesitates. Finally he drops the gun and his uncle shoots him for being weak. Joey then tells Yugorsky that Frankie had wanted to kill Anzor for cooking meth in the neighborhood, and that the gun was Tommy's. Tommy pulls a gun and a shootout commences, killing all of the mobsters except Frankie. Frankie comes to kill Joey, who reveals that he is actually an undercover FBI agent. Oleg pulls a gun on Frankie, distracting him so Joey could grab Frankie's gun and shoot him.Joey and Oleg leave the hockey rink to see the FBImarker descending in helicopters.

Joey takes Oleg out for some breakfast, but as they leave, the pimp who tried to kill Oleg walks in. The pimp threatens Oleg with a knife and produces the gun. Joey steps in and kills the pimp by stabbing him in the neck. In a flash, Joey and Oleg are seen fleeing the diner. The movie's opening scene repeats as Joey and Oleg drive away, both bloodstained. But Oleg realizes that it is Joey's blood on both of them, as he had been shot in the struggle.

Back in the neighborhood, Mila has locked herself up in the shed behind their house, grieving and staring down at a picture. She holds up a lighter to an open propane tank, blowing up the meth lab in her backyard and killing herself. Teresa and Nicky both come out of the house to investigate, and see Joey weaving down the street, losing consciousness from blood loss. Joey crashes the car and Teresa pulls him out, holding him as he goes limp. Oleg stands in front of his house, watching it burn.

Days later, a funeral is held for Joey with Teresa, Nicky, and Oleg in attendance. They drive out of the city, to a small farm house, where Joey's car is parked in the driveway. Teresa, sitting on the car's bumper, seemingly talks to herself when she says "Don't ever ask me to bury you again Joey." Joey himself emerges from under the car, alive and well, and hugs Nicky and Oleg, who they appear to have adopted, living free and clear now that Joey is no longer undercover.


  • Paul Walker as Joey Gazelle: A low-level thug working for the Perello mob family. He is ordered to dispose Tommy's gun after it was used in a bloody shootout that resulted in a death of a police officer; however, Joey never does and the gun is stolen by Oleg, thrusting Joey into a dangerous mission to retrieve the missing gun before either the cops or the Perello mob do.
  • Cameron Bright as Oleg Yugorsky: The son of Mila Yugorsky and stepson of Anzor Yugorsky, who are Russian immigrants and neighbors of Joey Gazelle. Oleg steals a gun Joey neglected to dispose and uses it to shoot his father, but only wounds him. He runs away after the shooting, causing Joey to give chase in an effort to retrieve the gun before the police do. The Gazelles adopt him at the end of the movie.
  • Alex Neuberger as Nick "Nicky" Gazelle: The son of Joey and Teresa Gazelle. Best friends with next door neighbor Oleg. After the shooting of Ivan he is not seen that much if at all until the end scene where they fake Joey's funeral. He and Oleg become brothers at the end of the movie.
  • Vera Farmiga as Teresa Gazelle: Wife of Joey Gazelle. Tries not to react to, or worry about Joey's job. Comes off as weak and defenseless but proves she can handle herself when she shoots two pedophiles while attempting to find and rescue Oleg.
  • Ivana Miličević as Mila Yugorsky: Oleg's mother. She was a prostitute in Moscow and conceived Oleg there. She takes a job to be a prostitute in America in exchange for $50,000 (to be paid through her earnings). When the Russian mafia found out that she is pregnant, they sent Anzor to kill her; however, Anzor married her in order to protect her life. Mila ultimately commits suicide by blowing herself up.
  • Michael Cudlitz as Sal "Gummy Bear" Franzone: One of the henchmen for the Perellos. Tommy shoots him upon suspecting him of betrayal.
  • Bruce Altman and Elizabeth Mitchell as Dez and Edele Hansel: A suburban couple who take Oleg in while he is on the run. They appear at first to be good, kind-hearted people, but they are revealed to be a pair of pedophile serial killers who lure children into their apartments to molest, torture and kill them. Their surname is derived from the story Hansel and Gretel, and they call each other "mama bear" and "papa bear", respectively.
  • Arthur J. Nascarella as Frankie Perello: The head of the Italian mob and father of Tommy 'Tombs' Perello. He is ultimately killed by Joey Gazelle when he attempts to shoot Oleg at the film's climax.
  • Karel Roden as Anzor Yugorsky: Russian immigrant who married Mila to protect her. Has a childhood idol in John Wayne and his movies, often finding strength and determination to go on when things seem impossible.
  • David Warshofsky as Lester: The cruel pimp that ultimately ends up with the gun after he buys it from a car mechanic. He shoots Joey when he tries to protect Oleg from danger at the film's end. Lester is representative of the "Mad Hatter". In his final moments, Joey stabs Lester with a shiv.

Critical reception

Running Scared opened with $3,381,974 on 1611 screens ($2,099 per a theater average) It currently holds a 40% "Rotten" on film review site Rotten Tomatoes. The general consensus on said site is that, "This film runs with frenetic energy punctuated by gratuitous violence but sorely lacks in plot, character development and stylistic flair." The film holds an average of 41 out of 100 based on 30 reviews on another film review site Metacritic.

Justin Chang of Variety described Whitaker's cinematography, which primarily used Steadicam and crane shots, as "[dazzling] with a desaturated palette that nevertheless has a rich, grimy luster". He also noted the film had an odd plot, which was disarming given it was shot in Praguemarker rather than somewhere that looks closer to New Jersey. Sam Wigley of Sight and Sound said the vicious gangland depicted in the film resembles an "iniquitous fairytale realm", although it is dark, and "passes in a vertiginous blur of comic-book hyper-reality".


  1. Wayne Kramer Doesn't Hold Back with "Running Scared" Excerpt: "...the pimp is the Mad Hatter..."
  2. Running Scared, Box Office Mojo.

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