Crazy like a heart attack

“Running Scared”New Line CinemaWritten and directed by Wayne KramerStarring: Paul Walker, Cameron Bright, Vera Farmiga, Chazz Palminteri and Alex NeubergerRated R/122 minutesOpens Feb. 24, 2006Two-and-a-half out of four stars

Watching Wayne Kramer’s “Running Scared” is like watching 15 movies all at once with the volume way up and a finger stuck on the fast-forward button-and sometimes the rewind button, too, so we can see exactly how that blunt-nosed, silver revolver came to have its barrel jammed against a man’s crotch.

Yes, it’s a movie like that.

Modern crime thrillers are often a colorful menagerie of lowlifes and thugs, shot, chopped and scored for maximum sensory overload and minimum sense. Sometimes this approach works (as with Guy Ritchie’s twitchy tales), but mostly it doesn’t (Tony Scott should be fitted with one of those electric zap collars for inflicting “Domino” on us).

But all the quick cuts and whooshing pans in the world can’t compensate for a movie that’s light on story. “Running Scared” could never be accused of that-it’s a ravenous blob of a story, biting off more than it can chew, growing in unexpected directions. The violence and profanity on display here reach near operatic levels, including-I kid you not-one of those shots in which the anguished protagonist falls to his knees and screams up into the craning camera.

All of this makes “Running Scared” sound ridiculous-which it is-but it’s well-made and never boring.

How many movies have you seen in which a man is tortured by mookish hockey players who slap shot pucks into the man’s face? Whether or not that’s something you’ve been dying to see captured on film is another question, but at least it’s fresh.

Paul Walker plays Joey Gazelle, a low-level mob enforcer, family man and all-around sleaze who loses a gun-a blunt-nosed, silver revolver-that smoked a room full of dirty cops. If the bullets are matched to the gun, and the gun is matched to Joey, Joey’s a dead man.

Oleg (Cameron Bright), the boy next door, took the gun and used it to shoot Ivan (John Noble), his abusive stepfather. Ivan is Russian and obsessed with John Wayne-he tosses Oleg across the room when the kid disrespects The Duke. Ivan is also related to a high-ranking Russian mobster who is in cahoots with Joey’s boss (Arthur J. Nascarella)?and so on and so forth.

The story is only slightly less complicated than the Los Angeles freeway system, with as many exits and on-ramps and branching highways.

Joey drags his son around the bad side of town in the middle of the night, scouring the streets for Oleg and the gun, resulting in many scenes in which Joey tells his son to “stay put,” which he doesn’t.

Oh, and there’s so much more, including a bizarre and despicable sub-plot in which Joey’s wife, Teresa (Vera Farmiga), rescues Oleg from a murderous Ward-and-June-Cleaver pair of child pornographers.

Ick.

Teresa’s peek into the gaping maw of hell allows her to look at her husband afterward and see a good man?but come on. Couldn’t there have been a simpler, less cheaply manipulative way to reach that same conclusion?

“Running Scared” is all about cheap manipulation. It’s fun in a gruesome, breakneck, guilty-pleasure kind of way, but don’t tell it to calm down-it’s likely to shoot you.