Watching Running With Scissors the movie instead of reading Running With Scissors the best-selling memoir by Augusten Burroughs is like running with a spatula, or maybe some weird toast tongs. The experience is unusual zany, even but not nearly as dangerous or exhilarating as one would hope from the recklessness the title implies. This is quite a feat of dullness on the part of writer-director (and Nip/Tuck creator) Ryan Murphy, considering the rawness of Burroughs' unenviably colorful autobiographical material: Raised by a monstrously narcissistic mother (Annette Bening) prone to psychosis and the creation of bad poetry, young Augusten (Joseph Cross) is deposited like a foster kid in the home of his mother's barmy psychiatrist, Dr. Finch (Brian Cox). And in the way of crazy shrinks throughout psychoanalytic history, Finch has a brood (Jill Clayburgh as meek wife, Gwyneth Paltrow and Evan Rachel Wood as damaged daughters, Joseph Fiennes as profoundly disturbed ''adopted'' son) that makes the clan in Little Miss Sunshine or The Addams Family seem Walton fresh and functional.
Burroughs describes life in the Finch hell house with bleak hilarity that gains power from the suggestion of warped ordinariness doesn't every shrink wake his sleeping family to admire what he has just produced in the toilet? But Murphy, a first-time feature filmmaker, lacks an equivalent voice of his own or the confidence to influence through understatement; instead, he goes for the shorthand of ornate retro-'70s production and costume design, bumping up against arch kitsch. (To call the cluttered house itself a character, as the director has, is to cede narrative control.) Bening is elegantly unvain in her ferocious performance as a bad, sick mother, but in this standing-still adaptation she's bested by kitchen decor.