So somebody somewhere one day had a thought: “What if ‘Die Hard’ except a school shooting?” and not only didn’t they immediately check themselves for other symptoms of lead poisoning but thought, “Yep, that’s a winner” and went on to make the movie. Presumably, that person was Kyle Rankin, writer-director of the staggeringly misguided, deeply noxious “Run Hide Fight.” But let’s not wholly exonerate all the friends, collaborators, script-readers, caterers, mailmen, grocers, friendly passersby, and supportive family pets who may have had a hand, however slight, in helping this thing to come to pass. Premiering on the Lido – admittedly so far Out of Competition it’s probably halfway to Croatia by now – as part of a pandemic-era Venice lineup otherwise notable for almost across-the-board high quality, “Run Hide Fight” did, in fairness, come as something of a relief to those members of the press audience who might have been beginning to wonder if sheer gratitude for being here at all was clouding their ability to find fault with films. With “Run Hide Fight” it’s difficult to find anything but.
Truculent high school senior Zoe (Isabel May, giving off some major Hayden Panettiere vibes) has Serious Issues. We know this from the get-go because on an early morning hunting trip, shot in grimly graded gray-green, before her army vet Dad (Thomas Jane, who ought to know better) has even finished his Foreshadowing Life Lesson about how it’s kinder to finish off a wounded animal rather than let it die in pain, Zoe has staved in the head of the deer in question with a rock. The source of her angst, it’s soon revealed, is the recent death of her mother (Radha Mitchell, see comment re: Thomas Jane), presumably from caffeine-related cancer given that every time she pops up for a cozy little afterlife chat with her daughter, no matter how many dead bodies are littering the ground all around, she’s clutching a coffee mug. What could possibly happen that will help Zoe Move On and Let Her Mom Go? According to this screenplay’s psychology, which appears to have been written in accordance with the tenets of the Dr. John McClane school of grief therapy, a high school bloodbath may just provide her with the means to accept a prom date proposal, finally take off her dad’s combat jacket and cease chatting to her imaginary mother. You know, to heal.
At school, to which she’s driven by her best friend Lewis (Olly Sholotan), who according to some of the words written in the script is pining for Zoe’s romantic attention, it’s Senior Prank Day. This accounts for the film’s few mildly inspired ideas, such as a stairwell that one student has turned into a slip-n-slide, and a teacher’s breakroom filled to the ceiling with balloons, which will at least provide an unusual backdrop for some carnage later. And it sort of justifies why some of the teachers whom a bloodsoaked Zoe will try to warn about the danger, will assume she’s just pranking them and continue teaching their classes. It does not, however, explain how a large white van stuffed with explosives can crash into the school cafeteria at lunchtime and a gang of four machine-gun-wielding miscreants can jump out and open fire on their classmates, without a single adult or anyone in the whole rest of the school catching on for what seems like an eternity, or at least double-math.
The four evildoers put into action a remarkably convoluted supervillain-style plan under the ringleadership of a knife-wielding maniac called Tristan (Eli Brown). He looks about thirty, sure, but his muddled manifesto has something to do with social media, which is how you, fellow kids, know he’s actually a disaffected modern teenager. And in case we don’t get the message of his sick perversity, he later makes a pretty Spanish teacher strip at knifepoint, and what’s worse, orders Hawaiian pizza. His chief henchman is Chris (Britton Sear) a big lug with an itchy trigger finger, some sort of mental illness, and a big old gay crush on Tristan, while on shotgun duty, we have bullied fat kid Kip (Cyrus Arnold). Rounding out Tristan/Zod’s kill-happy entourage, there’s Chris’ sister Anna (Catherine Davis), to whose heavy-eye-make-up-and-studs attitude I, as a mildly grunge-goth-inclined yet fundamentally unmurderous teenager myself back in the day, take personal offense.
Zoe is in the toilet when the shooting starts and escapes by crawling McClane-ily through the building’s vents. She eventually even makes it outside, but after a Soulful Moment, turns back to help the very students whose company and friendship she has lately been spurning. Quicker than you can yippee-ki-yay-motherfucker, she reinvents herself, with the help of some firearms (In Guns We trust, America!) as a pistol-toting, self-tourniquetted teen virago instantly heroized by the irresponsible media and the impotent police outside, who, incidentally, include sheriff Treat Williams, a great audience proxy for how he keeps backing away from the action looking aghast. Perhaps Zoe will get a chance to face down demons both outer and inner before this day is done? Man, that would be so neat.
At literally no point in this weirdly lumbering, sluggish movie’s narrative does its grotesque tastelessness ever appear to have occurred to anyone involved. Make no mistake, this is not a “controversial” take on the horrifying national scourge that is school shootings: there is no “Elephant” in this room. All it is instead, is a gratuitously inept attempt to take two things that should never have been brought into contact – the disease that is America’s sickening tradition of teenage gun crime, and the plot of John McTiernan’s 1988 Christmas classic – and finger-daub them into a witless screenplay: “Die Hard With Attendance.” Times are tough, and we’re all partial to a little trashy shoot-em-up entertainment to pass the long pandemic days, but please, for your own good, run from, hide from, and fight the urge to make it “Run Hide Fight.” [D]