Like a particularly obnoxious episode of 'Perfect Strangers,' On the Run pushes the tired odd-couple formula to its breaking point and beyond. It wouldn't be as bad if the filmmakers displayed a sense of irony about the plot's clichs; what's astonishing is that the director, first-time helmer Bruno de Almeida, has somehow deluded himself into thinking that he's breaking new ground. He and screenwriter Joseph Minion (who wrote the similarly themed After Hours) approach the formula with a gravity worthy of Ed Wood. Unfortunately, de Almeida's shooting style (or lack thereof) is Woodsian as well; mismatched shots and continuity errors abound here, as does bargin-basement production design. I would say On the Run has to be seen to be believed, but that would require someone to have to watch it. And it isn't nearly as much fun an endurance test as Plan 9 From Outer Space.

To be fair, the first 15 minutes of the film provide a few (intentional) chuckles. These opening scenes introduce us to Albert De Santis (Michael Imperioli, from 'The Sopranos'), a straight-arrow travel agent so addicted to his routine, he's never actually traveled anywhere himself. One evening, he's home alone watching a movie on television when the phone rings: it's his childhood friend Louie (John Ventimiglia), whom he hasn't seen in years. Louie, it seems, has just broken out of prison, where he was serving a five-year sentence for bank robbery. He's alone, he's hungry, he's tired-can't his best friend help him out? Albert hangs up the phone and does the only thing he can do: He contacts the police. But his guilty conscience quickly overtakes his common sense and he dashes out into the night to rescue his friend.

The implausibilities begin to mount the moment Albert leaves his apartment to meet Louie; if he actually was the Nervous Nelly he's made out to be in the beginning, there's no way he'd even think about walking through that door. But the show must go on, so the pair meet up and, predictably, the last thing Louie wants to do is lie low. Instead, he drags a kicking and screaming Albert all over the city in search of a good time. Naturally, the pair gets involved in a series of misadventures that teach them important lessons about life and about themselves.

The central fallacy of the film is that the viewer (and Albert) is supposed to find Louie, who is little more than a selfish jerk, an appealing person to pal around with. After the 50th time Albert complains about Louie's antics, you wonder why he just doesn't ditch the loser already. Indeed, you can sense the screenwriter's desperation at coming up with ways to keep them together. By the last half-hour, the movie has become so labored and unbelievable, it's impossible to watch it with a straight face. That includes the out-of-left-field ending, which suggests de Almeida prepared for his debut through repeated viewings of The Graduate and Easy Rider. And they say Hollywood is running out of ideas.

--Ethan Alter