Producers: Michelle Danner, Brian Drillinger, Valerie Debler, Alexandra Guarnieri, Dario Kirola, Bill Kenwright, Scott Martin, Michael Slitkin and Jack Sheehan Director: Michelle Danner Screenplay: Jason Chase Tyrrell Cast: Edouard Philipponnat, Elisabeth Röhm, Nadji Jeter, Eric Balfour, Kerri Medders, Jessica Amlee, Tracy Melchior, Kyle Jones and Cameron Douglas Distributor: Saban Films
Oh, how extravagantly young, up-and-coming actor Edouard Philipponnat suffers as a conflicted drug addict forced into becoming a police informant in “The Runner.” A pity that the audience has to suffer along with him.
The plot of this overlong film by Michelle Danner is actually quite simple, though she tries to make it more complex by using numerous flashbacks and chronological shifts. Aiden Albers (Philipponnat) is a wealthy young man turned in to the cops by his businesswoman mother Miranda (Elisabeth Röhm), who fears for his wellbeing because he’s doing drugs. Uncompromising Detective Walls (Cameron Douglas) offers to save him from prosecution if he’ll become his CI, pose as a drug dealer and lure his supplier, a fellow simply referred to as Local Legend (Eric Balfour), to a party where Aiden will wear a wire to document their making a big distribution deal. SWAT can then swoop in and arrest LL; as for Aiden, he can go off to safety with the cash he’s made selling and what the cops are paying him.
But though this narrative is pretty straightforward, it’s made complicated by the fact that Aiden is tormented by guilt over his responsibility for the overdose of his sweet, sunny girlfriend Layla (Kerri Medders), whose brain was fried in the process and has apparently reverted to her childhood. He’s determined to collect payment not only to assure his future, but her treatment.
There’s a further problem in that Aiden is still using prodigiously himself even as he and his partner Blake (Nadji Jeter), who’s unaware of his undercover work, are hounded by classmates, bullying and otherwise, to provide them with the drugs they want.
Everything culminates at the party, where Aiden is so dazed from drugs and drink that his current squeeze Liz (Jessica Amlee) is distraught over him. But, in one of the abrupt and inexplicable transformations that the script traffics in, he composes himself sufficiently to cement the deal with LL. For some reason, though, SWAT delays its entrance until Aiden gets into a fight with one of the bullies he’s been selling to, and the wire he’s been so obviously wearing is revealed. That means that by the time the cops arrive, everybody, including LL and his thugs, is aware of Aiden being a snitch; a big firefight ensues.
But an idyllic epilogue at a beachfront haven, highlighting yet more swift changes in characters, assures us of a blissful future for the boy. Aiden is suddenly clean and happy, while Wall, who up to this point has been a no-nonsense, tough-as-nails type, has morphed into an avuncular adviser. Perhaps this is intended as a nod to the life experience of Douglas, Michael’s son, who actually spent some seven years in prison for drug possession and distribution before cleaning up his act. He exhibits much of the old Douglas family intensity here, leading with that prominent chin, but with that comes a distinct lack of subtlety. That applies to most of the rest of the cast, with Jeter, Balfour and Medders all encouraged by Danner to overplay strenuously.
“The Runner”—a title that refers to drug-running, of course, but also to the fact that Aiden jogs (occasionally stopping to snort some coke along the way), and that when arrested he breaks loose and runs pointlessly through the streets in his boxers before being caught—has been made with a certain sheen, courtesy of Alexandra Manias’ upscale production design and Pierluigi Malavasi’s glossy cinematography. The fly in the ointment comes in Teferi Seifu’s editing, with its woozily languid pacing and incessant shifts of time and perspective; but that’s something that inevitably goes hand-in-hand with Danner’s script and directorial approach.
Ultimately “The Runner” is basically a fairly simpleminded police procedural gussied up with plenty of visual flourishes, all designed to turn it into a character study of a young man trapped in a world of entitlement and drugs. It’s not terribly convincing as a cautionary tale, but it does give Mr. Philipponnat the opportunity to emote—or overemote—to an extraordinary degree.