Since my wife has taken up movie reviewing, she has been a lot more open to watching films I recommend. Accordingly, I have spent the last few months trying to cram as many pieces of cinema down her throat as possible. This has, by pure coincidence, translated in to a glut of late-80s/early-90s drivel. This trend started when I decided I wanted to watch The Running Man. The real reason for this was to celebrate the life/mourn the passing of one Mr. Richard Dawson.
My sole familiarity of Mr. Dawson’s oeuvre lay completely in his work on Family Feud and the Match Game. I had never (and have still never) in my entire life seen an episode of Hogan’s Heroes. I don’t think it would be any stretch to say, at the time of The Running Man’s release, I wasn’t even aware the show Hogan’s Heroes existed. Believe it or not, at 10 years old, situation comedies about World War II just didn’t appeal to me.
But a full-length live-action movie pitting Arnold Schwarzenegger against a bevy of comic book-like supervillians in brawls to the death? Aces.
Arnold plays Ben Richards, a man framed and wrongly convicted of the massacre of a group of food rioters. Apparently, by 2017 America will be a totalitarian police state, and they don’t like spreading the wealth. Obama better get on some oppressive legislation, because we are WAY behind schedule on that shit.
The film starts with Richards busting out of a labor camp with a couple of fellow jail birds, Laughlin and Weiss (Yaphett Koto and Marvin McIntyre). They all head down to the local “Resistance” camp (you can’t have a proper authoritarian government without some easy to identify malcontents). Laughlin and Weiss join the resistance movement and Richards heads to meet his brother, who he claims can get him out of the country.
When he reaches his brother’s apartment, however, he finds it inhabited by our fiery/sexy/Latin female lead, Amber Mendez (Maria Conchita Alonso). In an attempt to stay his course, Richards kidnaps Amber and forces her to buy him a plane ticket, “disguising” himself brilliantly in a Hawaiian t-shirt and a pair of sunglasses. Oh, and a Panama Jack hat. Ah, a future totalitarian police state where a man convicted of massacring 1,500 innocent food rioters and escaping from prison can don an ugly shirt and get on a plane unhindered. To the future!
Unfortunately for Richards he didn’t have the foresight to think that, once in the airport, his hostage may do something like scream, “Hey, police, help!” Which is exactly what occurs.
Instead of sending Richards back in to a forced labor camp, they send him to Damon Killian (Richard Dawson) who hosts a “game show” where ex-cons are thrown in to an underground gauntlet and unceasingly harangued by the aforementioned supervillians called “stalkers.” If they win they get their freedom, if they lose, well, they’re dead.
Of course it wouldn’t be any fun if it was just Richards running through the gauntlet, so Killian surprises Richards by throwing in his buddies Laughlin and Weiss, and throws Amber in for good measure under the guise that she was helping him escape.
The Running Man, which is based on a Stephen King short I have never read and, from what I’ve heard, based VERY loosely, is pure, unadulterated cheese. Arnie kills the stalkers and slings one-liners like it’s his job (which, I guess, it is). For example, after cutting a man in half with a chainsaw he proclaims “He had to split!”
There’s a sub plot about shutting down the oppressive government by finding their 24-hour forced “newsfeed uplink.” Which, of course, they have in plain site on the gaming grounds where they shove in convicted felons once a week. What a great spot to hide the brainwashing mechanism by which you control the people. Really, the whole sub plot is forced, only included because it gives the protagonists something heroic to work towards. Heroes can only perpetrate so much mindless violence and still be heroes.
It seems weird that a game show host should be the face of a totalitarian government, but that’s pretty much how they paint it here. I mean, the guy has to make money right? Regardless, Dawson plays a smug, smarmy arrogant character. I remember both then, and now, being surprised at how well he pulls the character off. I had just assumed he was hired because he was also, in real life, a game show host. But, then again, I’ve watched enough episodes of Family Feud to know the man did have a self-assured, in-your-face sense of humor. Fine piece of casting.
The movie holds up pretty well. It’s ridiculous and cheesy, but it’s FUN, like a lot of Schwarzenegger’s films. The end is a little overly-dramatic; you would think they destroyed the totalitarian government and reinstated democracy, but all they really did was shut down a game show. I’m not sure that reverses years of oppressive government but, then again, they did also shut down that pesky news feed!
I considered downloading and reviewing the Commodore 64 version of The Running Man, but I’ve never really stumbled upon a really user-friendly C64 emulator. So if you want you can watch the longplay here:
Trust me, it’s awesome.
Written by Ryan Venson