The Running Man
directed by Paul Michael GlaserThe Running Man is set in 2019, although it's a 2019 that's stuck in a curious 1980s timewarp as far as fashion is concerned. Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a policeman on the scene at a food riot when he is told to fire on the protesters. Naturally he refuses, but his display of conscience gets him thrown in jail and blamed for the Bakersfield Massacre that he refused to carry out.
In this film America is suffering under a corrupt and divisive regime. The city streets are crowded with poor people scratching a living, but the wealthy don't care. One of the most popular entertainments is the cheesy game show, The Running Man. It's like an updated version of throwing Christians to the lions. The format involves selecting several "criminals", and making them run for their lives from a number of well-armed opponents. It's hard to decide which is the most heinous crime, murder for entertainment or the utter bad taste of this game show.
The programme's host, Damon Killian (Richard Dawson), is worried about ratings. He decides he wants Ben Richards in his show to give it some spice. Killian is more concerned with the way things will look on camera than in any sense of justice. The show's winners are promised their freedom, and previous winners are shown living the high life on tropical islands. But is that really where they are?
The Running Man is largely a vehicle for Schwarzenegger, but he doesn't really carry it off. His acting is wooden, and it's only during the action scenes that he convinces. Of course there are plenty of those, although these would have been better if the costumes and props wielded by characters such as Captain Freedom, Dynamo, Buzzsaw and Subzero weren't quite so laughable.
Ben Richards is a true hero, without ambiguity, and he faces opponents who are corrupt, cowardly and odious. This is not a film full of nuance or moral conflicts. Yet its themes of brutality as entertainment and the falsity of media are still relevant to our times. A film with as much yellow spandex as this one has is hard to take seriously, and it's mostly a bit of fun. The Running Man is shallow, cheesy, and extremely retro, yet still quite enjoyable.
Review © Ros Jackson