Movie Review: Child Trafficking faces Texas Justice in “The Runners”

“The Runners” is a low-budget rural Texas riff on child sex trafficking, with a rural Texas take on “how we deal with’em, down in Texas.”

It’s a straight-up C-movie that reaches its climax, and then stumbles towards a far bigger one because, well, we’ve got to get more guns and a Mexican drug cartel involved.

It’s bad. And as that climactic shootout arrives, with a villain who brings a bolt-action rifle to a gunfight to take on a hero’s shotgun, you chuckle and think, “This can’t get worse.” And then it does.

Older brother Ryan (writer and co-director Micah Lyons) has been raising sister Zoe ever since their parents died. But now that she’s a teen (Netty Leech), rebellion has set in.

She’s been cutting classes, dating a popular jock on the Hallsville High football team, talking back to her “guardian.”

That’s what puts her at the after-game party. That’s where she figures out the jock isn’t faithful, which leaves her there alone. And that’s when she’s grabbed.

Ryan flips-out when she doesn’t make it home, and frantic calls to the cowboy hat sheriff’s department doesn’t even get their boots off their desks. A tip here, an hunch there and he stumbles into a mass kidnapping. The rescue fails, but the otherwise ruthless and murderous kidnapper (co-director Joey Loomis) lets him live.

In bad thrillers, they always let the hero live. They don’t always leave a Polaroid of the gagged victim, and a ROAD MAP of where they’re a-going. But that’s the difference between a B-movie and a C, D or Z one.

Ryan rounds up his bearded doofus pal Kooter (Jason Peter Kennedy) and sets off after an RV loaded with bound teens, held by a Ms. Nasty Braids, Cash Money (Rhoda Morman), a skinhead to provide the muscle and mastermind Marty (Loomis).

The interlocking pieces of how a no-budget film is planned, financed and cast are laid bare in movies like “The Runners.”

Lyons is producing, writing and acting in movies in and around his tiny hometown, Hallsville. He knows the lay of the East Texas land.

He’s making thrillers on hot-button topics. There’s a “COVID-19: Invasion” movie in production.

And he landed an actual movie star for a bit part. That helps get the movie financed. Tom Sizemore plays the preacher a couple of characters consult, the only guy who can get lazy, dimwitted but armed-to-the-teeth law enforcement off its collective butts.

The fights aren’t awful, although the first big shootout is laughably under-armed, by Texas standards and by career-criminals-in-the-movies standards. They saved all their cash for an over-ordnanced finale, which is a Sig-Sauer slaugherhouse of assault rifles.

But the script ranges from bad to worse, with generic character melt-downs and amateurish plot lapses. Why kill a “problem” when you can leave him to keep chasing you, and later capture and then torture him, with a little trash-talk tossed in?

Here’s a tip to film financiers. If the script you’re being pitched has the tritest thriller line of them all in it — “We’re a lot alike, you and I” — drop it and run. Run away like “The Runners.”

1star6

MPAA Rating: unrated, violence, sexual assault, profanity

Cast: Micah Lyons, Netty Leech, Joey Loomis, Rhonda Morman, Jason Peter Kennedy, and Tom Sizemore

Credits: Directed by Joey Loomis and Micah Lyons, script by Micah Lyons. An Uncork’d Entertainment release.

Running time: 1:38

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