It’s doubtful you’ll remember much about Better Start Running.
It’s been a decade since director Brett Simon gave us the weirdly cynical, yet highly enjoyable, high school comedy Assassination of a High School President. While that film’s bleak humor and limited release turned it into a bit of a cult classic, there’s no doubt that Simon’s follow-up, Better Start Running, is doomed to wallow in the $5 bin at your local Wal-Mart. And maybe that’s appropriate for a movie that treats local yokels as nothing short of infantile adults in a perpetual state of arrested development. They might get a kick out of this film’s weird blend of homespun wisdom and broad action/adventure.
Harley (Alex Sharp) hasn’t done much with his life, short of working in his local big box store. When he witnesses his crush, Stephanie (Analeigh Tipton) being assaulted by their boss, Harley comes to her defense, killing the man in the process. The two soon go on the run, bringing along Harley’s crotchety grandfather (Jeremy Irons), learning about each other in the process.
The ratio of depth to personality is weirdly skewed in this movie, with Chad Faust and Annie Burgstede’s script seeming to misconstrue quirkiness for either of the two. So when Harley tells the 911 operator ,“We’ve gotta go on the run,” it’s confusing as to whether we’re supposed to laugh at Harley or not. The same can be said with Stephanie, who, despite Tipton being close to 30, acts and is treated like a girl of 15. The strokes everyone is painted with are just as broad. Jeremy Irons’ foul-mouthed Marine grandfather enjoys reminding Harley about his lack of parents yet seems to have a close relationship with him. Maria Bello’s “she for he” written character of a crass police officer whose sole joke is that she believes she’s a white man.
Characters like this need to live in a broad comedic world and the darkness that films Better Start Running doesn’t suit them. The film’s pivotal moment comes when Harley accidentally murders his boss during an act of self defense, causing him and Stephanie to flee for their lives. Yet the audience watches as Bello’s Agent McFadden discovers Stephanie’s assault and Harley’s act of bravery on closed circuit television. So why, then, is she prepared to murder them both and set them up as Mickey and Mallory-esque murderers? The story isn’t bumbling enough to be charming, and it’s too dark to be lighthearted. Stephanie’s assault is brutal, but the script never gives any discussion to it, maybe because then it would have to make Stephanie a person.
Tipton certainly gives a sensitive, quiet performance as Stephanie. Her character is obsessed with children despite acting like a child herself, and a finer script might have given her more attempts to discuss her issues. That being said, Tipton is darling and it’s a shame her character is little more than a prize for Harley, in the vein of Jennifer Connelly in Career Opportunities. Alex Sharp is similarly sweet, but it seems like much of his history was left on the cutting room floor – being revealed in a third act argument that doesn’t give us enough reason to care about him considering how late it develops. Irons seems to have fun as Harley’s grandpa who joins the two on the lam in order to reconnect with the love of his life. This element, with its sweetness and heartbreak, could have been the primary idea for the movie.
Better Start Running is a small feature that doesn’t seem to blend black comedy with small-town personalities. The cast is good, but this isn’t Simon’s greatest work and it’s doubtful you’ll remember much about it, short of Jeremy Irons using harsh language.