Tuesday, April 20, 2021

RUNNING TIME (1997) (Synapse Films Blu-ray Review)


Label: Synapse Films
Region Code: Region FREE
Rating: Unrated
Video: 1080p HD Full Frame (1.37:1)
Audio: English DTS-HD MA English 2.0 Original Stereo with Optional English Subtitles
Director: Josh Becker
Cast: Bruce Campbell, Jeremy Roberts, Art LaFleur, Jeremy Roberts, William Stanford Davis, Gordon Jenison Noice

Directed by Josh Becker (Thou Shalt Not Kill... Except) Running Time (1997) is a low-budget heist-gone-wrong caper which was clearly inspired by Alfred Hitchcock's Rope (1948). The black and white film runs a lean 70-minutes and is shot and edited to make it look as if it were shot in a single continuous take without in real-time. 
It stars  cult-icon Bruce Campbell (Bubba Ho-Tep) as a ex-con named Carl, who at the start of the film is being released from prison after a five-year stint, being seen off by the the warden, (Art LaFleur, The Blob), who offers him a Cuban cigar and kind words about his exemplary behavior while incarcerated. Carl however has no intention of going straight, no sooner has he walked out of the front gate and he and his pal Patrick (Jeremy Roberts, The People Under the Stairs) already have a plan to knock over the prison's corrupt laundry operation within the next hour! The target is a money laundering racket operated by the prison's warden, a place flush with a quarter million dollars of the mafia's cash in a safe. Having worked in the prison's laundry facility for the last five years, Carl has the inside scoop on when and where to hit it, knowing that he and his pals have twenty minutes to get in an out without a hitch. 

Patrick meets him outside the prison in a stolen delivery truck, in the back Carl finds a hooker-with-heart-of-gold named Janie (Anita Barone, The Rosary Murders), a gift to his friend so that he can get his post-incarceration rocks off. It turns out that Janie is an old flame of Carl's from highschool, which results in a potential love interest for the cocksure con.  

After busting his nut and getting her digits they drop her off and proceed pick up the rest of the crew which Patrick has assembled per Carl's instructions, these include a safecracker named Buzz (William Stanford Davis, TV's Snowpiercer) and a drug-addled getaway driver named Donny (Gordon Jenison Noice,  Head of the Family). While Carl is sure this heist is gonna go off without a hitch he is less than thrilled with the team that his pal has assembled to execute it, and rightfully so. Almost from the get-go the caper is fraught with incompetence, beginning with a flat tire and a cagey drug addict in need of a fix. As the plan devolves into complete panicked chaos people are hurt and he ends up on the run from the law, with Carl forced to choose between filthy lucre and the possibility of love. 

Hats off to Synapse for bringing this gem to the masses, I honesty had never even heard of before they announced this Blu-ray, so I was pretty excited to check it out. Not just because Campbell is starring either, director Josh Becker, who is part of Sam Raimi's inner-circle of filmmaker friends, has made a handful of cool indies, like Thou Shalt Not Kill... Except and Lunatics: A Love Story, and this might be his best work, at least of the handful that I've seen so far. What we get is a  micro-budgeted crime caper that is shot in black and white and starring Campbell is a somewhat rare non-horror role, and he kills it! While the lack of budget is evident throughout it is a solid nuts and bolts crime thriller with a simple, straight-forward plot that focuses on character interplay more than plot contrivances to entertain, and on that level it succeeds. It might lack the polish and razzle-dazzle of a big-budget caper but it's got plenty of spunk and delivers the goods. 

Audio/Video: Running Time (1997) arrives on region-free Blu-ray from Synapse Films sourced from a new 2K scan of the original 16mm camera negative. The 1080p black and white  image is framed in the original 1.37:1 full frame presentation, the flick looks near flawless and showcases a well defined layer of medium grain. It's not razor sharp but it resolves fine detail in clothing and facial features very nicely, depth and clarity are fine, and the contrast is solid throughout. The black levels also look great with deep shadows that enhances the noir-ish tendencies of the lensing. 

Audio comes by way of English DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo with optional English subtitles. We get a clean sounding mix that is dialogue heavy with a score by Joseph DeLuca (Evil Dead). This is advertised as being presented for the first time on home video with the original theatrical 2.0 stereo mix. 

Extras kick-off with an audio commentary with writer/director Josh Becker and star Bruce Campbell that offers plenty of production notes and making-of anecdotes about the film, including the Saul Bass-style opening credits. As they are lifelong friends they have a good rapport, which makes for a solid listen.

We also get the 20-min Run and Gun, a new interview with Bruce Campbell that is shot in full screen, black and white with an opening credit that mimics the movie's title credits, which I thought was a nice touch. The star gets into his life long friendship with director Josh Becker, and what it was like making the film during the ten day shoot.

We also get 20-min of vintage Q&A footage from the Freaky Film Festival Premiere at the University of Illinois back in '97 with Josh Becker and Bruce Campbell. Its an impromptu Q&A that was actually a tactic to stall for time when the film print for the screening failed to show and they had to make other arrangements to view the movie. You really get a feel for guy's friendship, laughing, having a great time cracking wise about Zena: Warrior Proncess . The disc is buttoned-up with a 2-min trailer for the film. 

The single-disc, region-free Blu-ray release arrives in a standard keepcase with a reversible sleeve of artwork featuring art by  artists Wes Benscoter and Gerry Kissell, the disc itself featuring a scene from the film with star Bruce Campbell. 


Special Features:
- All-New 2K scan and restoration of the original camera negative
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing.
- Presented for the first time on video with the original theatrical stereo mix
- Audio commentary with writer/director Josh Becker and star Bruce Campbell
- “Run and Gun with Bruce Campbell” – All-new interview/featurette (20 min)
- Q&A footage from the Freaky Film Festival Premiere at the University of Illinois (20 min) 
- Original Trailer (2 min) 
- Reversible cover art from artists Wes Benscoter and Gerry Kissell

If you're a Campbell fanatic I think that Running Time (1997) is a no-brainer, this is one of his best dramatic performances and a diamond in the rough among his filmography. I hope this Synapse Blu-ray gives this indie thriller some new life as I think it's one some of you might not know about. I consider myself a huge Bruce Campbell fan and I'd never even heard heard of it, and I know I can't be the only one. 

Screenshots from the Blu-ray: