For most micro-budget movies, the mere fact that they could get made can be considered an accomplishment in of itself. Playing at a festival is seen as an added bonus. With limited resources comes the need to get creative in ways that, when everything comes together, can sometimes produce something fresh and new. They don’t have the luxury of spending millions of dollars on sets, actors, stunt choreographers, and special effects. As moviegoers, the one thing that should be avoided as much as possible is to give a small movie a pass simply because it treads rockier waters than studio-mandated tentpole projects. Although it is very tempting to support the little guys, sometimes a spade has to be called a spade. Herein lies the issue with The Run from Malaysian writer-director Ahmad Idham.
The film follows a former army soldier named Khaliff (Aaron Aziz), who returns to his modest hometown only to discover that things have changed. A cartel of thugs, led by an old rival who goes by the name of KJ (Erry Putra), has taken the reigns, corrupting the political system and doing their bidding with impunity. Even Khaliff’s former sweetheart Maya (Dira Abu Zahar) is caught in the terrible web, having been forced into marriage with none other than KJ himself. The last straw is when the angered veteran’s younger sister suddenly goes missing. Khaliff highly suspects KJ of having masterminded a foul fate for his sibling, sending him off on a quest to smash his enemy’s operations, rescue his sister, and perhaps even rekindle his lost love with Maya.
The Run Offers Promise but Goes Nowhere Fast
Ahmad Idham’s The Run is a mixed bag of admirable ingredients it has operating in its favor and a series of lesser qualities that drag the proceedings down, many of which stem from both budgetary constraints and a severe lack of imagination. On the positive side of things, the filmmakers should be commended for putting together a very nice array of combat sequences that belie the film’s tiny means. Notwithstanding a few wonky editing choices, The Run allows Aaron Aziz to show off a rather impressive array of physical skills. The athleticism on display from him and several of the stunt team members are genuinely fun to look at, with some of the hits convincing enough to produce wincing among the audience. Not only that but the film invests a great amount of time in its action sequences (which ironically proves to be a fault as well with regard to story — more on that shortly), giving the fans what they came to see, namely people beating each other senseless. The only quibble concerning the combat scenes is the lack of variety. With the exception of a neatly devised rooftop chase near the start of the film, a heavy dose of the action is limited to punches, jumps, and kicks. It does look nice, and it is possible to see that the actors are giving it their all, but some might find it repetitive after a while.
A couple of additional praiseworthy notes pertain first to the film’s synthesized score, harkening back to the type of music that graced many films released in the 1980s, as well as the lively performance from Hazama Azmi as Togey, a cab driver who offers his courage and extremely limited abilities to Khaliff’s mission to seek justice. Togey is far from the most original character to grace the screen, and his inclusion into the plot admittedly feels very forced, but the actor is equipped with the level of charisma necessary to have the viewer forget about the ridiculousness of the writing for his character.
That is, alas, where most of the positives come to an end. To put it bluntly, The Run suffers two nagging issues. For one, it offers nothing original to the tried, tested and true sub-genre of vigilante justice films. This is essentially an even lower budgeted version of the Joe Don Baker vehicle Walking Tall from 1973. The beats can be predicted from a mile away, which itself would not be such a terrible thing provided director Idham could muster even the slightest gusto to make the familiar passably interesting. There is an expression used by some when discussing films that clearly lack originality, the argument being that the journey matters more than the destination. This is true enough, and there are countless examples to back it up, but when the journey itself is as pedestrian as it is here the film is in dire straits. None of the actors have the chops to add the smallest amount of gravitas to their roles and the direction has a generally flat tone about it. The plot is merely ‘going through the motions’ in order to showcase some well-concocted fights scenes, but, as previously mentioned, even those can grow a wee bit tiresome due to limited creativity.
There is perhaps no worse criticism to throw at a film than calling it boring. A terrible film can be gleefully ripped to shreds and analyzed for its awfulness. A boring film simply fails to elicit considerable emotion. Yes the filmmakers obviously put effort and heart into creating the best fight scenes they could, and in many respects, those moments do pay dividends, but there is very, very little else of note. Even the title itself is a bit misleading, suggesting that the protagonist shall be the one fleeing his pursuers, when in fact the opposite occurs for the most part. Those curious to check out action movies from lesser-known markets may still want to see what this Malaysian film has to offer, which is fine. Just be forewarned that, apart from a few qualities, it runs on empty.