Tuesday, May 24, 2011

RUNNING ON EMPTY (1988) - Sidney Lumet


I'm not exactly sure why I never saw this film at the movies or on VHS when it first came out in the '80s. I suspect it had something to do with me hating on River Phoenix, given that all the girls in middle school seemed to have mad Tiger Beat crushes on him instead of me. Later in college, I know exactly why I didn't see it - because a friend convinced me to act a scene from the film in her acting class, the pivotal one where Phoenix confesses his love to Martha Plimpton and that his family is on the run from the FBI. I didn't want to be "influenced" in my performance, so I didn't watch the film at that time. Long story short, I sucked hard in scene, forgot most of the lines. So, for me, Running on Empty has always been haunted by the ghost of my own inadequacies.

My tangled history with it aside, the film's pretty good. A little slow in the "running" in spots and maybe some missed opportunities for intrigue considering its family-on-the-lamb premise, its Weather Underground roots. But it's solid in a quiet under-the-radar sort of way. Lumet plays the material mostly as straight drama, verging on melodrama in spots. There are some interesting ideas about the costs of idealism filtering down through generations, especially those heady ideals of the '60s.

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