MOVIE REVIEW: The Running Man (1987)

Mick Fleetwood and Dweezil Zappa appear in this cheesey 80’s classic!

RUNNING MAN FRONT

THE RUNNING MAN (1987, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, directed by Paul Michael Glaser)

It’s hard to believe that, as goofy as The Running Man is, it came so close to predicting what aspects of our society would be like in the future. We still have a few years before we hit 2019, perhaps we are right on track for our 2019 to match this version!

The Running Man is loosely (and I mean, very very very loosely) based on the novella by Richard Bachman, otherwise known to his “dear readers” as Stephing King. Where the King book involved a desperate man who needs money to buy medicine, and a game where he can travel anywhere in the world, the movie scales things back. Ah-nold, at his one-liner best, is Ben Richards, a former pilot who disobeyed orders and refused to fire on an unarmed mob. He is imprisoned but escapes, and is now about to appear on “The Running Man”, a 24 hour a day, 7 day a week television show (hmmm, Big Brother?) and fight for his life. The prize is a full pardon for your crimes, a loss means death.

This story was recently ripped off in a lil’ smash hit movie called The Hunger Games.  Perhaps you’ve seen it, or a 13 year old girl wearing a Peeta shirt?

Society is now a police state (hmmm?) and the people are distracted by endless game shows on television (hmmm?). News is heavily censored and “edited for television” (hmmm?). Ben Richards’ crime of disobeying orders has been spun by the networks — they show a fake video of him firing on the unarmed crowd, earning himself the nickname “The Butcher of Bakersfield”. Now he will have the chance to win his freedom on The Running Man, but the odds are well stacked against him. By his side, also fighting for their lives, are two captured freedom fighters.  These guys are hoping to use their capture to find the source of network transmissions.  Then they could jam it, and broadcast the truth of what the world has become….

The Running Man is not a great film. It’s an 80’s Arnold film.  If you’ve seen one, you know what you’re getting.  Lots of action. Arnold must battle “Stalkers” on The Running Man. Much like the gladiators on American Gladiators, these stalkers will do everything they can to stop Arnold from winning. They include:

* Sub-Zero, as played by Professor Toru Tanaka (weapons include hockey stick blade and exploding pucks)
* Fireball, played by Jim Brown (flamethrower, jet pack)
* the opera-loving Dynamo (who has a punk-rock-looking suit that can fire electricity; sings)
* Buzzsaw (so named for his use of chainsaw and motorcycle)
* the retired Captain Freedom (Arnold’s friend Jesse Ventura)

The show is run by Damien Killian (subtle!), played by former Family Feud host Richard Dawson. Nobody could have played this role better than Dawson. While playing a game show host was not a stretch for him, Dawson was absolutely flawless in the role. Other famous names include Yaphet Kotto (Alien) as another Running Man contestant, Mick Fleetwood as former-musician-turned-freedom-fighter named Mic (I like to think Mick is just playing the future version of himself) and a very young Dweezil Zappa.

The blu-ray disc has enough bonus features to keep you going after the film has ended, including audio commentaries and featurettes. The audio is really nice, mastered in sweet, sweet 7.1 surround. When Arnold is in that little pod heading down to The Running Man’s play area, the sound was awesome. If you have 7.1 at home you need to check this out. I really enjoyed the sound.

If you like other cheesey Arnold Schwarzenegger movies such as Total Recall or Commando, add The Running Man to your collection. If you like movies with a stirring plot and dramatic acting, avoid at all costs. Regardless of your feelings on this film, do try to read the book. I have always felt that a remake of this film, following King’s book, is well overdue.

3/5 stars

14 comments

  1. I love this film. Only read it a couple of years ago actually. Really enjoyed the book but I actually think this is a rare instance where a film beats the original! And I totally forgot Mick Fleetwood was in it!!

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    1. We’re here, almost gone.

      Running Man was a little disappointing to me. Though the one-liners were great. “I live to see you eat that contract! But I hope you leave enough room for my fist, because I’m going to ram it into your stomach, and break your god damn SPIIIINNNEEE!!!!”

      Commando is absolutely hilarious in how awful it and cheesy it is. It’s a fantastic time, as I can’t stop laughing. Arnold ripping a phone booth out of the wall, and picking it up with David Patrick Kelly still in it is gold. Arnold laughing with his daughter and hand feeding a deer made me cry from laughing so hard.

      And Total Recall is just a classic, an actual good movie that happens to have Arnold in it, with some great one liners, and ultra violence from Mr. Paul Verhoeven. The Running Man falls short of both of them for different reasons. It’s not as much stupid testosterone fun as Commando, and it’s not as smart as Total Recall.

      But since it’s almost Christmas, I’ll leave you with this…

      “Who told you you could eat my cookies?”

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Total Recall was the first “restricted” movie I ever saw in theaters on my birthday that year. I had just finished reading the novelization, I believe by Piers Anthony, which is vastly expanded. You learn all about the aliens and their reasons for leaving the devices across the galaxy. They were insects, like large ants. Really cool stuff.

        TRUE LIES!

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        1. It was almost rated X here in the States. That would have given it a limited release. Just like how Robocop was originally X-rated, and Starship Troopers went through some edits as well. Verhoeven has not had a good time with the MPAA. They were supposedly super strict in 1990 though.

          Harrison, how can you hate comedies? You don’t like to laugh!?

          Liked by 1 person

        2. I do indeed like to laugh, but the best laughs and the funniest stuff for me is the funny parts in non-comedies. More specifically as to why I don’t like them, there are a couple reasons that sort of form the main crux-
          1- It breaks the immersion and realism when something contrived occurs that is trying to be funny
          2- I don’t enjoy watching grown people make a fool of themselves on screen for money (generalising, but still valid in many cases)
          3- A lot of comedies rely on putting characters in embarrassing and ridiculous situations. Not only do I not need any more ideas of embarrassing situations that could befall me, I don’t derive enjoyment from other people’s embarrassment

          As point 2 simply refers to “on screen” animated shows that are comedic are alright in my book and there is exactly one pure comedy that I like (a lot actually), but that will remain a secret I take to my grave

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