Filmmakers are an odd breed, and neither are the people behind The runnera rite of passage police procedural, which tries every genre for size, but never really settles into any of them.
Writer Jason Chase Tyrrell and director Michelle Danner clearly have a great concept here that’s frenetic and full of potential, but nothing really fits together. Aiden (Edouard Philipponnat) is our central protagonist, who has a strained relationship with his mother, who works hard but remains blind to her son and his behavior.
Aiden deals drugs in high school, perpetually high most of the time, and fails hard as a result. His best friend Blake (Nadji Jeter) spends most of his time hanging out with Aiden getting charged, as they drift off without ever attending class.
The runner begins with Aiden getting arrested by Detective Wall (Cameron Douglas), who coerces him into being a snitch, then promises to reduce his sentence if he brings down the kingpin Local Legend (Eric Balfour). This central plot point may hold things together, but beyond a committed performance from Philipponnat, The runner never recovers from disjointed structural choices, and visual tangents that lead nowhere.
What audiences should take away from this teen drug dealer drama is simple. The story is everything, and without it, your film means nothing. If there are any saving graces here, they are to be found with Cameron Douglas (son of Michael), who brings effortless charisma to the screen. There’s something inherently cinematic about the Douglas clan as a whole, which suggests someone is cloning them for future generations.
His detective wall may be the bogeyman Aiden can never hide from, but it also represents an acting anchor amid a sea of trouble. Everyone, including him, may be stereotypical, but Douglas is the only one beyond Philipponnat to really have an impact on the disruption.
In addition to the structural concerns, there is also a pacing issue. For something called The runner, things often drag on. From drug-fueled house parties to indulgent arthouse dream sequences, there’s a weighty quality that rarely wanes; a postman that will leave the audience up to make tea or grab a snack from the kitchen cupboard.
In truth, there are only so many people who can tolerate a spoiled teenager reeling from substances. Despite the many dramatic obstacles that are set up to give depth to Aiden’s unease, it’s hard to empathize with someone who never seems to care. Burning holes in the upholstery of his Mercedes pickup isn’t a nightmare, while having an endless supply of cash on hand he’s unlikely to convince anyone.
The runner looks like a very thin story stretched over a very large frame, as if padding was deemed necessary for plot purposes. In many ways, this film would have benefited from careful editing choices, which could have eliminated any superfluous backstory and allowed for a tighter narrative in the process.
Either that or more should have been made of the relationship between mother and son, leaving Elisabeth Rohm more scope for character development. To a large extent, it feels superfluous and purely there to advance the plot, which isn’t great from the perspective of audiences, who are looking for more than broad strokes to really engage.
What is perhaps the most disappointing part of The runner is not even on screen, but intangible. There’s so much potential in this story to do something big, that The runner deserves an extra star just for what could have been. All the basics and markers of malfunction are in place which would have made this the equivalent of a drug Ferris Bullerbut unfortunately this was never planned.
Instead, audiences are left with an inferior film with identity issues, which they really struggle to overcome and which directly impact the remaining film as a result. Whether The runner has something to recommend, this reviewer would once again return to Douglas and Philipponnat’s double act, which offers a certain sense of redemption amid the cinematic carnage.