Friday, September 3, 2010

"The Running Man" (1987)

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maria Conchita Alonso and Richard Dawson
Written by Steven E. DeSouza
Directed by Paul Michael Glaser

Based on the novel by Stephen King, "The Running Man" stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as Ben Richards, a man framed for murder who must compete in a vicious game show to win his freedom and clear his name.  The year is 2019, and the United States is now a police state run by an organization known as "The Cadre."  With corporate ties and deep pockets, the Cadre keeps the populace in line by serving up viciously violent television programming.  The most popular show on television is "The Running Man," hosted by the charismatic Killian (Richard Dawson).  Criminals are set loose in a ghetto and hunted by "stalkers," gimmicky killers with names like Sub-Zero and Dynamo.

Richards, a pilot, is arrested after refusing to open fire on innocent civilians during a food riot.  He manages to escape from prison, and attempts to find his brother in Los Angeles.  Instead, he finds Amber (Maria Conchita Alonso) who tells him that his brother has been sent for "re-education."  Richards tries to flee the country, but Amber gives him up the first chance she gets, and he's recaptured.  When Killian learns of this, he immediately gets Richards transferred to the network, and he becomes a contestant on "The Running Man."  Amber, suspecting that Richards may not be the butcher the media made him out to be, tries to find the truth and is arrested and herself sentenced to be a contestant on the show.

Richards and Amber must survive long enough to locate a hidden rebel base inside the ghetto that can help them jam the network's satellite feed and show the people the truth.  They'll not only have to fight a small army of killers, but Killian's own smear campaign and a populace more than willing to believe whatever they're told.

"The Running Man" isn't the smartest movie ever, but it does make a few interesting points that might be even more relevant today than they were back in the 1980s.  It presents a government, and a country, controlled entirely by media and corporate interests.  It's the sort of scary possible future that seems a bit more plausible these days, and an economic downturn that leaves the population of America hungry and desperate for anything to get them through it.  Of course, there's a well-off upper-class that doesn't give a damn about the poor, huddled masses beneath them.

But the focus here is definitely on the action and colorful characters.  Throw in a whole LOT of cheesy one-liners, and you've got yourself a fun sci-fi action flick with just a little bit of social satire.  Schwarzenegger keeps things light, throwing out completely ridiculous lines that are as awful as they are awesome.  After lighting Fireball on fire and watching him burn, Richards says, "What a hot-head!"  Or after using a chainsaw to cut BuzzSaw in half, "He had to split."

The fight sequences are generally well made, and the movie moves along at a brisk pace to stave off boredom between the fights.  There's a whole lot of cheese in "The Running Man," which plants it purely in the "guilty pleasure" category.  But the satire is just accurate and biting enough to make it a good time all around, even if you decide to start thinking beyond the silly script and ridiculous action sequences. 

"The Running Man" is totally a party movie.  Get some friends, get some beers and junk food and have yourselves a blast.  Wall to wall fun, that's what you'll find here.