The Running Man is often dismissed as being just another Arnie action thriller full of explosions, bad puns and gunfire, and to be fair, there is a lot of that in it. People used to look at it and compare it to the Terminator series, saying it was one of the poorer Schwarzenegger films.
But, give it 18 years, and you find yourself being able to appreciate it in a different light. Rather than just being another brainless action film, it works very well as a parody of reality TV. It is quite different to the Stephen King book, true, but I doubt whether Hollywood, with its love of upbeat endings and so-called 'ordinary guys' who turned out to have the skills of a trained commando, would have accepted it in its current form.
But, on with the review.
Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a cop working in a dystopian United States where democracy is a thing of the past, and the entire country is ruled by a government/media conglomerate amalgamation. The economy is in tatters, food is scarce and the state keeps people distracted by producing sadistic gameshows for them to watch, like Jumping for Dollars, where people jump for money over a pit of rabid dogs, and the most popular one is The Running Man, a gameshow hosted by the slimy Damian Killian (played by the entertaining Richard Dawson) where supposed 'criminals' are hunted down by theatrical, pro-wresting-esquire 'stalkers'.
Some, however, try and speak up against the government. When a group of hungry people hold a protest in the town of Bakersfield, California, a helicopter piloted by Richards is sent to 'calm' (i.e. kill) the protest. When Richards refuses to fire on innocent people, he is arrested and framed for the murder of the people in the crowd. He is sentenced to a slave labour camp, but escapes with the aid of a resistance leader (Yaphet Kotto) and goes on the run.
However, his freedom does not last long, and after he kidnaps network employee Amber Mendez (Marita Conchita Alonso) in an attempt to escape those pursuing him, he finds himself taken prisoner again, but this time he is forced to appear on The Running Man.
And there, of course, the entire film kicks into standard Arnie mode. Richards is launched into the post-apocalyptic wasteland of Los Angeles (why is LA always destroyed in these dystopian worlds?) and forced to run from the 'stalkers', along with two other prisoners who escaped from the labour camp with him. Amber also becomes curious about Richards' protestations of innocence, and discovers he was framed. Guess what happens to her, then? So, as Amber, Richards and the two other guys run around trying to avoid the stalkers, we soon become aware that Richards is no ordinary cop. He's Super Arnie, the unkillable one man army who can collapse evil corporate dictatorships and fight obese men covered in Christmas lights all while being just your average American guy with an Austrian accent.
Yes, the remainder of the film becomes dumb, loud, classic 80's Arnie fun. There's a lot of exciting fight sequences, the trademark dreadful puns ('He had to split' being my favourite), and the general formulaic final confrontation and happy ending. It's a lot of fun watching Killian react to it in the typical 'wholesome' gameshow host way, as well, and some of the funniest moments in the show revolve around the contrast between his interactions with the crowd as the seemingly benevolent host (watch out for the cursing old lady!) and the cold, cyncial man he is in reality who will do anything to increase ratings.
If you expect a high-brow, intelligent film, you'll be disappointed. But if you want a great 80s flick, well, this is it. But the great thing about this film is it was quite prophetic.
If you look at the entertainment we have today, you'll have noticed the way reality TV is going nowadays - shows featuring people willing to put themselves through anything for five minutes of fame, and producers all too willing to let them humiliate themselves on TV. It's not too far a leap to imagine that some vile TV exec out there has been trying to get the right to show people be executed live on TV. We've already had that, however, with the ghoulish al-Qaida hostage beheading videos posted on the internet. It seems that in the current climate, at least some people are perfectly fine with watching real death on their television sets.
With that in mind, and coupled with the fact that everything these days appears to be a revival of the 80s, you have to be impressed by the far-sightedness of this film. Of course, we haven't reached there yet, as it's terrorists, rather than the mainstream media, who have bought us easily available programs featuring real human death, but you just have to wonder how long it is before some exec decides to see if he can find a way of pitching a show that combines people's desire for entertainment and desire to indulge their morbid curiosity...
23 out of 30 found this helpful.
Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.