Home
Movies
Webseries
Short Films
Interviews Contact Links Cheez Blog


Double Impact (1991)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

THE RUNNING MAN (1987)

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Richard Dawson, Maria Conchita Alonso, Yaphet Kotto, Jim Brown

Written By: Steven E. de Souza, Richard Bachman (novel) Directed By: Paul Michael Glaser

The Short Version

Arnold Schwarzenegger: game show contestant!

It is, of course, “the most dangerous game.”

The villains in this flick are a blast to behold.

The director wisely chooses to skip the high concepts and focus on the cheese.

The Running Man is a dystopian sci fi action party in a box.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

QUESADILLA.

Tasty, though it may turn you into the running man.


Pairs Well With...

MILLER LITE.

Nothing says “sponsored by” like Miller Lite.  Nothing drinkable, anyway.

“What’s the matter?  Steroids make ya deaf?”


Once upon a time, Rob Cohen read a tale by a guy named Richard Bachman called “The Running Man.”  He loved it, and eagerly snatched up the movie rights.  What Cohen didn’t realize at the time was that “Richard Bachman” spent most days being called “Stephen King.” Even after the cat was let out of the bag, King asked that the Bachman name be retained for the eventual film’s credits.

It’s probably just as well, because The Running Man bears only the most passing of resemblances to “The Running Man,” and in this case, that’s perfectly okay.  Indeed, it’s better than okay, because the watered down, cheesed up screen version of The Running Man is a lot more fun to watch than the original story would have been.  (I won’t spoil things by explaining why; just trust me on that one.)

Here’s a quick recap for the folks playing at home…

It’s the not-so-distant future.  Collapsed economy; check.  Police state; check.  Hero publicly vilified for a massacre he didn’t commit; check.  Hero escapes from prison but is given back up to the state by a well-meaning woman who will come to see things differently later; check.  Standard material covered; check.

Now for stuff that sets The Running Man apart.  Much like the ancient Romans, this future society’s nasty rulers look to keep the people in check by providing them with regular doses of violent pro-government entertainment, leading to the single most popular program on the state-run ICS television network: “The Running Man.”  The premise?  A convicted criminal has three hours to navigate through four quadrants of earthquake-ruined rubble, hunted down all the while by “stalkers” whose job it is to execute the “runners.”  Runners who are fortunate enough to survive could win such fabulous prizes as a trial by jury, a suspended sentence, or even a full pardon!  Not that there are very many winners, of course.

Looks like we’re just in time to meet our next contestant…

The Running Man hit theatres in 1987, just a few months after Robocop did.  Both stories deal with violent but strangely plausible absurdities in dystopian near futures.  The makers of Robocop took the opportunity to throw a serious lens back on their own world, providing some not-so-subtle social commentary along the way, and they did so successfully.  The forces behind The Running Man were smart enough to avoid trying the same maneuver (at least beyond the very broadest of strokes), and instead just concentrated on making a rockin’ 80s action flick.  Considering all of the cheese involved here, that was definitely the right call.  After all, it’s hard to take serious social commentary from a highly rotund opera singer wearing tighty whities and a suit made of Christmas tree lights who also drives a Mad Max dune buggy and shoots lightning from his hands.

We’ll get back to him in a minute.

The genius of The Running Man is that only aspires to the superficial flashiness of the game show that is its namesake; anything else is just a nice extra.  Give the kind of talent involved with this picture – and there is a lot of talent here – that big of a playground with the freedom to ham and cheese it up at will, and special things can happen. 

The thirty minutes that make up the movie’s establishing First Act contain just enough drama to hang a story and a couple of simple subplots on, and they go by so quickly and painlessly that the audience is unlikely to notice that the evil helicopter attack is actually carried out by stock footage.  There’s gunfire, a head explodes, and there’s vaguely laughable future tech, collectively providing more than enough distractions to go around prior to the main event.  Call it the pregame show: technically necessary, but easy enough to tune out when the highlight clips aren’t playing.  It’s the perfect balance between shallowness and substance.

It also lets the audience know what to expect from our hero, which is to say: absolutely nothing complicated.  The Running Man is easily one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s least challenging projects; for the most part, he just has to run, shoot, grunt, and spout off a whole lot of cheesy (oh so wonderfully cheesy) one liners without having to fire very many acting muscles at all.  I counted maybe three moments total during the entire picture that called for him to display some form of emotional sincerity; I only bought it once.  And that’s okay, because relaxed Schwarzenegger is fun Schwarzenegger!

And speaking of fun…

The joy of most 80s action flicks may come from their heroes, but in the case of The Running Man, while our hero may get all the best jokes, it’s the villains who steal the show.  Let’s start with the big ham and cheese himself, real world game show host Richard Dawson (he of “Family Feud” fame), who, as “The Running Man” MC Damon Killian gets to play an even larger than life (and, one hopes, more evil) version of himself.  He plays the crowd like he’s been doing it all his life, because he has, and when it comes time to bring the nasty on, he does it with self-assured, understated gusto.  Dawson’s Killian is a joy to hate, and when it comes time for him to finally get his… it really does hit the spot.

Dawson couldn’t take on Schwarzenegger in an honest fight, of course, but that’s why there’s a cadre of Stalkers standing by!  They’re all delightfully goofy, over the top caricatures taken straight from the pages of a demented comic book, and they are a blast.

Take Buzzsaw (Bernard Gus Rethwisch), a motorcycle-riding mountain of a man whose weapon of choice is a giant industrial chainsaw that even Leatherface might think twice about handling.  Or maybe you dig Sub Zero (Professor Toru Tanaka), whose oversized hockey stick doubles as a razor sharp scythe.  Prefer heat to the cold?  Try the flamethrower-toting, jet pack flyin’ Fireball (NFL legend Jim Brown)!  Want some tunes?  There’s always Dyanmo (Erland Van Lidth), the aforementioned rotund opera singer wearing tighty whities and a suit made of Christmas tree lights who also drives a Mad Max dune buggy and shoots lightning from his hands!

Pit any of these guys against a yellow speed suit wearing Schwarzenegger, and you know you’ve got parties waiting to happen.  All I’ll say is that their ends are spectacular.  Not sure I can pick a favorite.

And just in case you wanted to poke a little more fun at the 1980s, you can’t forget Captain Freedom (Jesse Ventura, the movie’s second future governor to be), who not only stands as the show’s all-time champion stalker, but who also finds time to host a daily aerobic workout show of his own!  And how about that hair!

Ah, the 80s.

So, has the party in a box sunk in for you yet?

Harold Faltermeyer’s score is surprisingly so-so, but here, the rockers have speaking parts as underground revolutionaries.  Take your pick from Mick Fleetwood (he of Fleetwood Mac fame) or Dweezil (son of Frank) Zappa.  And hey, if you like the dance numbers that punctuate the staging of the “Running Man” television show, they got some former Laker Girl to choreograph them.  Her name’s Paula Abdul.

Who needs scintillating social commentary, I ask you?

Bottom line, The Running Man isn’t Arnold Schwarzenegger’s brainest flick, nor is it his best, but it’s entertaining where it counts, and that’s more than enough.  Spice it up with a strong showing from Maria Conchita Alonso, and you’ve got a hundred minutes of fun just waiting to be enjoyed.

Doom Cheez Cinema is now Cinema on the Rocks. Thank you for your support!

Tweet this page!






- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, April, 2014


More From The Bar! | Death Race 2000 | Rollerball | The Terminator |



You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


hermajestyspod.com

- copyright 2000-2016, Ziggy Berkeley and Cinema on the Rocks, all rights reserved.

Promotional/still images copyright their original authors. If you're going to drink, please do so legally and responsibly. Thanks.