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  • Benjamin May

Running Time (1997) Review

Carl has been in stir for five long years and is finally getting out. All he has thought about behind bars is pulling off the perfect heist, which he's got all planned out. Released, a free man again, Carl immediately meets up with his crew, enjoys the services of a prostitute (who happens to be an old flame) and sets out to rob the prison laundry system. Despite all his meticulous planning, that cruel mistress fate has a few tricks up her sleeve for Carl that will make his perfect score seem like the job from hell.

Directed by Josh Becker, 'Running Time' is a tense, atmospheric heist movie made to look like it's filmed in one continuous shot. This is something that is used in a lot of films, and can be distracting and gimmicky, with the audience often ignoring the narrative; spending their time instead trying to spot where the cuts are hidden. It never appears like a gimmick in 'Running Time' though, heightening the stress and tension of the situation Carl is in, as well as maintaining the audience's rapt attention throughout the movie's run.

It is also filmed as if it's happening in real time, another technique that can appear gimmicky in some movies, but- again- doesn't here, adding a sense of urgency to the proceedings. In fact, Kurt Rauf's handling of the cinematography feels consistently fresh and inventive, while the choice of shooting it in black and white lends the movie an atmosphere of film noir. Under Becker's direction, 'Running Time' has terrific visuals that stand out in the viewer's memory long after the credits have rolled.

Bruce Campbell delivers an understated performance as Carl, a criminal with a conscience. He never goes over-the-top, and his personality doesn't overshadow the role- which sometimes happens when the material he's working with isn't very strong (see 'Alien Apocalypse', also directed by Becker, if you have any doubts about this last point). He plays Carl like a classic, charming anti-hero, the kind one could imagine someone like Burt Lancaster might have played in his day. It's a shame the film isn't more widely seen as its one of Campbell's finest on-screen performances (up there with his terrific turn as Elvis in 'Bubba Ho-Tep').

The screenplay- written by Becker and Peter Choi- is strong and full of snappy, pulpy dialogue that would not be out of place in some of David Mamet's work from the late 90's. The story rockets along at a brisk pace, though a melodramatic, clichéd love story sub-plot involving the aforementioned prostitute does make the film drag a little- in the second half especially.

Though these scenes are well acted by Campbell- and Anita Barone as the prostitute- they are the weakest part of the film and could have benefitted from a more active set of hands during the editing process. Also, the members of Campbell's gang aren't very interesting or memorable characters, which is a shame as the actors perform admirably in their roles.

The film is engrossing though, not to mention highly entertaining. The heist sequence is particularly well filmed and acted, feeling as tense as a stretched bowstring in the last round of an archery competition. The story is fairly unpredictable as well, and Joseph LoDuca- who has scored a lot of Campbell and Becker's work, from 'The Evil Dead' to 'Xena: Warrior Princess'- provides an atmospheric soundtrack that contributes effectively to the film's frenetic, swift pacing.

Though some of the supporting roles are a little lacking in characterization and there are some sequences that could have used tightening up- either during the writing stage or in the editing room- this is one movie you don't want to miss out on. Shot with a distinct visual style and featuring a strong, subtle performance from Bruce Campbell, 'Running Time' is an enjoyable, original whirlwind of a crime caper.


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