A well-intentioned parable about uncharmed lives in a marginal Madrid neighborhood, Saura Medrano's debut "Just Run" looks like a hard-boiled thriller , but is really a tender exploration of how the softer side of human nature can win out. Home interest has centered on helmer being the son of vet Carlos Saura rather than on the merits of the film itself, which are multiple, despite some first-timer failings.

A well-intentioned parable about uncharmed lives in a marginal Madrid neighborhood, Saura Medrano’s debut “Just Run” looks like a hard-boiled thriller , but is really a tender exploration of how the softer side of human nature can win out. Home interest has centered on helmer being the son of vet Carlos Saura rather than on the merits of the film itself, which are multiple, despite some first-timer failings. The presence of hot young actor Fele Martinez and the screen reappearance of the sexy Silke after nearly four years are likely to raise interest at home; “Run” could even develop some offshore legs beyond regular Spanish territories.

Introverted, intense 17-year-old Luis (Martinez), junkie Lanas (Aitor Merino) and Santos (Israel Rodriguez) are the Captains, a gang of young hoods working for local Mafioso Don Vicente (veteran Francisco Rabal). During a botched drug deal, Santos is shot and dies, and Luis and Lanas try to destroy the evidence.

Luis’ g.f. and Santos’ sister, Sira (Silke, who shot to fame with Julio Medem’s 1996 “Earth” and immediately took a four-year break), suspects that Luis may know something about her brother’s death. Don Vicente tells him to lie low for a while.

Lobo (Patxi Freytez), an old rival of Luis who’s working for Don Vicente, makes a play for Sira. She’s keen to get revenge on Luis for the death of her brother and so responds, with an ulterior motive. Don Vicente, has Lobo kill Lanas, worried the latter might talk. Luis, who wants out of the whole gang lifestyle, is merely drawn further in.

Basic thriller plot is intercut with scenes involving Luis’ 14-year-old brother Milio (Alberto Escobar) and buddy Alber (Santiago Etombayambo), a pair of graffiti artists whose relationship with the main action is tangential. They account for many of pic’s best moments and also get the best dialogue, as in one sequence when Alber explains to Milio the meaning of platonic love.

Milio’s adoration of his big brother opens up the theme suggested by the film’s Spanish title (“What Would You Do for Love”), but not present in the official English one, “Just Run.”

Martinez’s offbeat good looks and unsmiling, twitchy manner make him right for a role about a boy caught between his instincts for violence and for love. But it’s questionable whether he has the range to carry a whole picture yet. Silke’s role is underdeveloped, making it hard for emotional sparks to fly between the supposed lovers.

Thesps in the smaller roles shine. Freytez, best known till now for playing sensitive types, here wields a knife with total conviction, while Escobar as the young Milio is a real find. Geraldine Chaplin, Carlos Saura’s ex-wife, cameos as Luis and Milio’s world-weary mother.

Script is strongest in the way it diligently scrapes the surface of some pretty unpleasant characters in search of the humanity beneath, and in its attempt to avoid stereotypes. But pacing sometimes feels flawed, with some scenes dragged out, particularly in the first half-hour.

South Madrid landscapes are well-captured in all their horrible beauty by lensing tandem Jose Luis Lopez Linares and Teo Delgado. Score is best when kept down to a single piano; whenever the orchestra enters, things turn slushy.

Just Run

Spain-Italy-Denmark

Production

An Altafilms release (in Spain) of a Cartel, La Fiera Corrupia (Spain)/Fandango (Italy)/Alien Prods. (Denmark) production, with participation of TVE, Via Digital. (International sales: Media Luna, Cologne.) Produced by Eduardo Campoy, Antonio Saura. Directed by Saura Medrano. Screenplay, Anton Martin, Nicolas Casariego, Saura , based on a novel by Martin Casariego.

Crew

Camera (color), Jose Luis Lopez Linares, Teo Delgado; editor, Jose Salcedo; music, Carlo Siliotto; art director, Luis Ramirez; sound (Dolby), Jaime Barrios. Reviewed at Cine Princesa, Madrid, May 3, 2000. Running time: 91 MIN.

With

Luis - Fele Martinez
Sira - Silke
Lobo - Patxi Freytez
Lanas - Aitor Merino
Milio - Alberto Escobar
Alber - Santiago Etombayambo
Mother - Geraldine Chaplin
Don Vicente - Francisco Rabal
Santos - Israel Rodriguez
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