Bruce Campbell is beloved to the b-movie fanbase because there’s a blue collar appeal to him. He never achieved superstardom but he works steadily, plying his trade with a work ethic and a lack of pretension that endears him to the genre-loving viewers. He’s “our” star, the kind of celeb you could imagine yourself chatting with over a beer.
Since fans enjoy that identification with him, they really love the movies where Campbell enjoys a leading role. Obviously, the ongoing Evil Dead movie/television franchise is the main attraction in that area but there are other, lesser known Campbell vehicles that his fans should hunt down. One of the best is Running Time, a unique crime flick masterminded by Campbell’s longtime friend and collaborator, Josh Becker. It’s got some unique hooks to its filmmaking approach that allow both Campbell and Becker to show off their skills.
The premise is straightforward: Carl (Campbell) is a felon who gets out of prison and immediately joins up with a crew of criminal friends for a job that he planned while in the clink. The target is the payroll of a laundry that uses prison labor and his partner is Patrick (Jeremy Roberts), a friend from his school days who has handled all the outside-the-prison planning for the job. Nothing goes as planned because (A) Patrick is a screw-up and (B) fate has a lot of surprises in store for Carl and Patrick.
That simple but reliable plot gets a fresh coat of paint from the way co-writer/director Becker handles it. For starters, it unfolds in real time. Even more interesting is the directorial style, which creates the illusion of the film being one feature-length scene via a series of long takes captured via Steadicam and linked through clever edits to make it all appear seamless. Kurt Rauf’s crafty black and white cinematography is a key asset in Becker’s arsenal as he gives the film a series of peaks and valleys, steadily moving its crime narrative forward with economy while finding time for character beats that give it a little more flesh on the bone than usual.
And those character moments are where Campbell is given room to shine. As his carefully laid plans go awry and his badass self-image is stripped away, Campbell goes through a range of reactions that begin with humor and gradually shift into more dramatic and even romantic territory. Campbell hits all these notes convincingly and gets there in a way that works naturally within the story’s stylized confines. It helps that he has an excellent sparring partner in Roberts, the two establishing a back-and-forth that outlines a tormented but believable friendship that is put to the test. Also worthy of note is Anita Barone, who plays a figure from Carl’s past who pops up and adds further complications to his path that reveal a different side of his persona. Her work is heartfelt and helps draw out Campbell’s softer side.
Finally, the ringmaster behind this show deserves a nod of appreciation. Becker’s direction keeps all the moving parts of the film’s narrative, character arcs and stylistic choices running in a smoothly calibrated manner. There are plenty of surprises along the way but it’s all cleanly laid out and judiciously timed so the viewer never gets lost or bored. The end result is a great vehicle for Becker’s skills and inventiveness as a filmmaker, one that craftily uses Campbell and his acting skills as the engine to keep it chugging forwards. Fans of “The Chin” will find plenty to enjoy and if you’ve never seen Becker’s work, this would make a solid introduction.
Blu-Ray Notes: this title recently received a nice hi-def edition from Synapse Films. The transfer is a new 2K restoration taken from the original 16mm elements and also restores the original stereo mix in lossless form. You also get a fistful of extras, including a Becker/Campbell commentary, a new interview featurette with Campbell and, best of all, a video of festival Q&A session featuring star and director from the film’s original release era. You really get to see Campbell in his glory in the latter as he banters with an appreciative group of fans.