B&W, 1997, 70 mins.

Directed by Josh Becker

Starring Bruce Campbell, Jeremy Roberts, Anita Barone, Stan Davis, Gordon Jennison Noice / Produced by Josh Becker and Jane Goe / Music by Joseph LoDuca / Cinematography by Kurt Rauf

Format: DVD - Anchor Bay (MSRP $24.98)

Full Frame / Dolby Digital Mono

A notable twist on that old movie chestnut, the heist gone bad, Running Time takes its inspiration from Alfred Hitchcock's Rope (designing the movie as one continuous shot in real time without cuts) and fuses it to a small scale story in the tradition of Stanely Kubrick's The Killing. While the very low budget hampers a few of the film's more ambitious attempts, the overall result is extremely impressive and, most importantly, very entertaining.

Immediately after being released from a five year stint in prison, the conceited Carl (Bruce Campbell) hooks up with his old partner in crime, Patrick (Jeremy Roberts), who has brought along a driver and a safecracker to help steal a quarter of a million dollars stashed through the prison's corrupt laundry fund. After a brief tryst with a hooker (Anita Barone) who turns out to be an old flame from high school, Carl leads the men from one botched detail to the next until they finally commit the robbery itself, which naturally goes awry and leads to some violent bloodshed. Panicked, the men go on the run through the backstreets of L.A. and try to figure out how to extricate themselves from a seemingly no-win situation.

A veteran of the Sam Raimi guerilla school of filmmaking, Becker has shown considerable improvement with each of his films (also including Thou Shalt Not Kill... Except and Lunatics: A Love Story), and Running Time is his most impressive to date. Boosted by a typically strong lead performance by Campbell, who really would be a huge star by now if there were any justice at all, the simple story barrels along quickly through the film's brief length and deftly fills in some endearing character details right to the end. While the subject matter could have lapsed into familiar sub-Tarantino pretension, the unexpected, emotional final act between Carl and Janie is what really distinguishes this film from the rest of the pack. Refreshingly devoid of smary hip dialogue and flashy cutting, Running Time simply focuses on the people and the events and tells the story, and is all the better for it. The single take technique results in a couple of awkwardly forced moments (let's watch everyone change a tire... let's watch everyone synchronize their watches again...), but these flaws are few and far between.

Shot in black and white 16mm and blown up to 35mm for some festival engagements, Running Time looks better than could be expected on Anchor Bay's DVD. The full frame image looks well composed and clear throughout, though some unavoidable grain in the source material shows through, particularly during the first reel. The mono audio track sounds fine under the circumstances, with Raimi's semi-regular composer Joseph LoDuca contributing a sparse score (which he composed for free!). Since virtually all of the dialogue was recorded live, a couple of lines are muffled in the process but not enough to damage the film. Becker and Campbell contribute an affectionate commentary track which, as might be expected, offers a very good time. Campbell provides some hilarious observations and anecdotes as usual, while Becker rigorously accounts the trials of making an experimental indie film in Los Angeles. A mostly useless "theatrical trailer" is included, which simply consists of the first two minutes of the film and probably wouldn't convince anyone to see the final product.

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