When you’re Nic Cage, sometimes, it’s too hard to keep it in the pants.
In the wake of the BP oil spill, Louisiana Congressman Colin Price (Nicolas Cage) wants to find a way so that people can keep their jobs, as well as make sure that those who are responsible for the spill in the first place, get their comeuppance. Price is very expressive with his ideas, which already puts him on some people’s radars as, possibly, a Senator. However, there’s a couple of skeletons in Price’s closet that have been tucked away for quite some time, that are only now coming out. For one, he’s a bit of a womanizer; there’s a video that begins to float around all of the news circuits featuring Price getting frisky with a wife of a unemployed fisherman. This ruins everything in Price’s life; his wife (Connie Nielsen) leaves him, his right-hand man (Wendell Pierce) doesn’t stand behind him anymore, and his consultant (Sarah Paulson) is running out of options of what to do with Price and his political career. It’s either give up, or continue to try and make a change – either way, it’s going to take a lot of running to get through.
So yeah, the Runner is aptly-titled because Cage, throughout a good majority of the film, is seen jogging up and down sidewalks. Sure, some of the title relates to the fact that Price himself is actually “running” for office, but honestly, a part of me just wishes this movie had been all about Nic Cage performing some sort of Forrest Gump cross-country run, where he met plenty of colorful citizens along the way, lost a bunch of weight, saw pretty sights, and eventually, just turned around. That, to me, would have been way better than whatever the Runner actually turns out to be.
But honestly, it’s not all that bad. Just most of it.
Writer/director Austin Stark makes his directorial debut here and while it’s easy to see that Mr. Moneybags was clearly not on his side with the budget, there’s no excusing the fact that this movie’s pretty much a mess. You can say that some of the problems Stark runs into, have to do with the fact that he is only able to do so much given the small-scale and budget he was handed, but sometimes, you just have to roll with however much money you’ve got ahold of, make the best of it, and see what churns out. None of that should ever fall onto the script, especially if your script is solid to begin with; something that Stark’s is not.
One of the main problems Stark seems to run into here with the plotting of this movie is that it wants to be so many things at once. Though it’s made somewhat apparent that this Price fella is setting out to create jobs for these unemployed fisherman during this time of crisis, it’s hardly ever touched upon. Instead, we get scenes where Price, as is often the case, runs, drinks, womanizes, and on rare occasion, talks about his feelings. One half of the movie is about how angry Stark seems to be about all those who got away with ruining the waters during the BP oil spill, but then, the other half, also wants to be a character-study of how troubled this Price man truly was. Neither movies are good in their own right, and put together, they’re even worse.
However, if there is one silver-lining to be found, it’s that Nic Cage actually seems to care about what he’s doing. But by the same token, that’s still the double-edged sword of this movie; whereas as in most movies where Cage is called upon to act like a goof-ball, he isn’t asked to do so here. Instead, he’s much more brooding than we’ve seen from him in quite some time and while it’s definitely nice to know that he’s still got those skills left in his acting repertoire, something doesn’t feel right when he’s doing it in a bore of a movie such as this.
The whole time, you’ll be wanting Cage to crack a weird smile or look in his eyes, but rather, you just get a guy who seems winded and is in desperate need of a nap. Maybe that’s just how he was directed to act, but whatever the case was, it hurts the movie, if only because there’s nothing else to really hold onto. Stark’s script is too busy running from being JFK to becoming, out of nowhere, Jerry Maguire, which leaves it all up to Cage to keep things at least somewhat interesting and cohesive.
But he’s just sort of there.
And as for the rest of the cast, everybody seems to be trying, just like Cage, but they too get side-lined with hardly anything of substance to do. Nielsen’s wife character feels like the usual kind of strict wife who still isn’t able to keep her man in line; Paulson’s character gets to have a semi-relationship with Cage’s and it’s as weird and as random as you’d expect it to be, although it does culminate in a surprisingly effective scene between the two that will come at you by surprise; Pierce is hardly here; and Peter Fonda, despite only having around ten minutes of screen, does a great job as Price’s dad. Though the movie could have played-up the smarmy and sinister charm of Fonda’s character, Stark goes a tad bit further and shows that this man, if anything, just wants his son to succeed and not become a screw-up in both his professional and personal life, like he was.
It’s a nice sentiment lost in a movie that, honestly, I forgot about ten minutes once it was over.
Consensus: Austin Stark has ideas to work with in the Runner, but they’re so jambled-up together and messy, that they end up getting in the way of what could have been solid performances from a well put-together cast.
3 / 10