You know, I kind of have a love/hate relationship with Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s the predictability factor; you can count on any Arnold Schwarzenegger movie having some bad puns and the requisite “I’ll be back” quote but there’s something comforting in that. He’s like Old Reliable; you can watch almost any Schwarzenegger movie and feel like you’ll be somewhat entertained and there’s no nasty surprises headed your way.
The Running Man was the first Schwarzenegger movie I have any memory of seeing; I still love it as much as I love Terminator 2. Of course, T2 is the far superior film as The Running Man is pretty much a piece of ’80’s glitzy crap that remains at the bottom of Schwarzenegger’s resume. It’s a movie that’s often forgotten.
As an adult, I’d probably mock this one to no end. You know, your childhood days have a funny way of affecting your views on movies though. I remember watching this one on cable with Older Sister when we first got cable – when cable seemed like something so new and fancy that my sisters and I nearly died when my parents signed up for cable service. I estimate that Older Sister and I ran through several hundred viewings of The Running Man over the years either on lazy weekend afternoons or sugar-fueled late nights. It’s funny, because we never mocked The Running Man but yet Older Sister and I made running cracks out of every other Schwarzenegger movie.
The first thing you should know about The Running Man is that it’s based on a Stephen King book. Granted, King wrote under his pseudonym Richard Bachman, but in my humble opinion, King starts out with a really good “What if?” kind of situation and gives it a great fleshing out. Having a Stephen King story as your basis is a strong point. It’s probably the best point of the movie, I think.
Of course, they changed it up from the original source material but… hey.
Okay, so basic plot outline time. Think of your typical dystopian future and add in Schwarzenegger as Ben Richards, an Army type who refuses to fire on civilians during a food riot and is relieved of command, but not before his subordinates carry out orders to kill the rioters, which include innocent women and children. Richards is carefully portrayed to be the rogue soldier who caused all this and he is thrown in prison.
While in prison, Richards meets up with Weiss, a techy type who’s a part of The Resistance (they’re resisting lots of things, but mainly it seems to be ICS, the main television network) and Laughlin, a hardened fighter. The three escape prison and Richards takes a woman hostage and forces her to travel with him to Hawaii to complete his escape. Unluckily for him, she manages to rat him out – but not before a TV producer and host notices the escape footage of Richards. The TV host is Damon Killian, the face of the world’s most popular television show, The Running Man, and he’ll stop at nothing to get Richards on the show.
The Running Man is a show based on taking convicts and turning them loose in an area with “stalkers” who hunt the convicts down and kill them. If the convicts can successfully evade the stalkers, they win their freedom – supposedly. The Running Man stalkers are celebrities in their own right. Remember American Gladiators? Think of it like that, except the gladiators are encouraged to slaughter the contestants for real.
As you can see, it’s kind of like a deathmatch version of Survivor melded with Solid Gold.
This is where the real fun begins. The cinematic version of this fine story is surreal in two ways. First, I think if you see it nowadays, the bombastic and outrageous aspects of reality television deaden The Running Man for you a bit and secondly, it’s really hard to take a movie seriously when your stalkers are guys like Buzzsaw, Sub Zero and Dynamo.
Meet Sub Zero. He kills people on a nutso overdone ice rink with a sharpened hockey stick.
This fine character is Buzzsaw. He’s a total freak for chainsaws and he likes to lift motorcycles for fun. As you can tell, he’s probably got a strong personality but it’s my guess that he’s not a fantastic person to share interesting conversation with over dinner or invite to your garden party.
This is Dynamo, the opera singing electrically minded stalker who runs around in a modified all terrain vehicle. I mean, as a kid, this was so fantastically amazing that someone sat around and dreamed this up that I think I loved it just for that. As an adult, I just wonder – opera? Fat dude? Fancy looking electronics? Huh?
Of course, Richards winds up helping the Resistance, Killian gets his just rewards and Schwarzenegger ends up with a cute girl. It’s something that starts out vaguely promising and then kind of collapses on itself in a heap of typically 80’s glam and overkill. It’s strange because it’s fun and exciting in a lot of ways – if you were a kid like me – but you know inherently it’s a completely and totally braindead kind of movie. In a lot of ways I vastly prefer this to Total Recall, another Schwarzenegger sci-fi movie, primarily because Richard Dawson as Killian is cheesily perfect and this movie features a random supporting cast of – WTF – Mick Fleetwood, Dweezil Zappa and Yaphet Kotto.
It’s not good, but it’s fun and it brings back fond memories. I don’t know how adults would handle it nowadays – especially given how dated it looks. For God’s sake, take a look at Maria Conchita Alonso’s wardrobe:
For the record, I may at one time have envied that purse. But not her hideous gauntlet things. One does have to draw the line somewhere.