The Running Man (1987): Breakdown by Kain424
Arnold Schwarzenegger is forced to take part in a game show in the near future where his life is at stake. No one has ever survived the game, but Schwarzenegger is determined to do just that, while rebelling against the corrupt system that landed him on the show.
[THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THEIR BADASSITUDE]
Arnold Schwarzenegger is Ben Richards
It seems that Richards was the muscle in the prison escape plan, seen early on carrying a steel girder and starting a diversionary fight with Kotto. But beyond that, he doesn’t seem to want anything to do with the escapees or their rebellion. He’s a self-made man, a survivor, but also a moral man who refuses orders to fire weapons on a crowd of unarmed civilians.
Naturally Schwarzenegger emphasizes the strongman aspects of the character while also fleshing out his wit and gallows humor. Good with a gun and quick with a comeback, Arnold as Richards is a killer hero with massive biceps, bigger balls, and a showman’s aptitude for audience empathy.
Maria Conchita Alonso is Amber Mendez
Amber plays both the heroine and the movie’s damsel-in-distress. She’s loud, largely annoying, strangely sexy, and tough as nails when she needs to be. She’s a fiery woman with a warrior spirit, so naturally there is some instant chemistry between herself and Richards, though their relationship remains on combative terms for most of the picture.
Yaphet Kotto is William Laughlin
Kotto plays the leader in their little escape group, and contact man for the underground resistance. He plans their escape and remains coolheaded through much of their plight once on the actual show. Of course, while a physically strong man, one can hardly agree that he’d last long in a movie featuring Arnie as the main protagonist…
Marvin J. McIntyre is Harold Weiss
Weiss is the brains of the group. And by “brains”, I mean the hacker-type character present in many science fiction stories. What he lacks in physical adroitness, he more than makes up for in persistence and a talent with electronic devices.
Richard Dawson is Damon Killian
It’s hard to imagine more perfect casting than Dawson as the film’s primary bad guy. A real life game show host, Dawson brings the goods and coats it with a layer of cruel sleaze, making him one of the genre’s most memorable villains ever. A class act villain all the way, one of his best moments comes after Arnold delivers his trademark “I’ll be back” lines. Killian responds, “Only in a rerun.” Fucking great.
Jesse Ventura is Captain Freedom
Ventura comes dangerously close to stealing the show here, which is saved only by the ex-pro wrestler’s limited screen time. Playing the role as formerly great stalker, now more of a sports announcer, Captain Freedom still believes there is honor and glory to be found in a game of death. While he remains nostalgic of his own former glory, he also still works for Killian, with whom Freedom has an uncooperative relationship.
Jim Brown is Fireball
One of the more deadly Blaxploitation stars to come out of the era, Jim Brown is a no-brainer for and Arnold opponent. But like the rest of the stalkers, his own gimmick (here a flame-thrower) can be used against him. A grim killer, he takes satisfaction in knowing the game has no winners.
Professor Toru Tanaka is Subzero
A behemoth with great strength and surprising grace on ice skates, Subzero is one of Arnold’s greatest foes. A showman to the core, he makes for a tremendous spectacle but in doing so underestimates his foes. Having Toru Tanaka, another ex-pro wrestler and bad guy henchman extraordinaire since Chuck Norris’s An Eye For An Eye, play one of the villains is as inspired as the rest of the movie is cheesy fun. Tanaka clearly has fun with the role, giving the “character” an intense glee at his trade a lesser “actor” wouldn’t have bothered bringing.
Gus Rethwisch is Buzzsaw
And speaking of having fun, Rethwisch is clearly enjoying playing this Stalker. A psychotic, incredibly strong killer with a penchant for hitting even his biggest fans, Buzzsaw is probably the deadliest of the lot. Well, aside from Captain Freedom.
Erland Van Lidth is Dynamo
Probably the most gimmicky of the Stalkers, he is the only one of them not to seemingly rely heavily on brute strength. He’s also the only one who gets a car. Singing opera and shooting electricity from his wrists, Dynamo is a hilariously over the top villain, bringing the enjoyment factor of The Running Man from a 10 to an 11. Clap if you love Dynamo!
[THE SEX AND VIOLENCE]
DUDESWEAT AND MACHISMO:
We get men in tights for much of the movie, Jesse Ventura gaying it up in a hilarious infomercial, and Paula Abdul’s dance choreography during the show. So yeah, there’s plenty of dudesweat herein.
EXPLOITATION AND MISOGYNY:
While foiling Arnold’s plans only found her in the same precarious situation as he, Maria Conchita Alonso doesn’t play a complete fool here. In fact, she’s generally very capable. She fights against men and manages to stand her own against them, killing a couple in the process. One expects a certain amount of skin-showing from the former Miss Venezuela, but the movie surprises us by keeping her body almost completely covered for the majority of the experience.
MURDER BY NUMBERS: [ 45 ]
While not nearly as violent as some of Arnold’s previous films (and certainly not as bodycount-heavy as something like Total Recall), The Running Man still gives us plenty of bloody, gory endings to characters, making it one of his nastiest. We have people being cut in half by chainsaws, strangled with barbed-wire, thrown onto spiked walls, electrocuted, heads popping like balloons, blown up and shot to death.
[THE BEST OF THE REST]
Knowing full well he may be heading off to an early death by going onto the show, Arnold makes it known his intentions to begrudgingly follow the rules if only for a few more minutes. When the lawyer representing the show offers Schwarzenegger some insurance-waving papers for his signature, using his back to help Arnold literally sign away his life, our favorite Austrian plants a nice post script to his John Hancock by stabbing the pen through the paper and into the dumb bastard’s shoulder-blade.
Kinda makes signing with an ‘X’ seem a little pussy now, doesn’t it?
Arnie truly is the king of the one-liners. The Running Man offers some of his best (or worst, if you’re lame like that) work, including such gems like grabbing a guy by his dick and saying “Need a lift?” before tossing him over a railing to his death. He seems almost more philosophical in this movie as several of his lines are in question form, like he’s asking the victim if it’s okay if he kills them in the most humiliating fashion. After bursting open a flame-thrower’s fuel line and drenching its owner in the flammable juices, Arnold asks if he needs “a light” before tossing a lit flare in the poor guy’s lap. He’s going to kill them anyway, but it’s kind of funny to think about whether or not Arnold is actually concerned with the last thoughts of his victims.
But some lines go beyond one-liners, and Schwarzenegger makes full use of his angry, meat-eating, skull-crushing persona to come up with one that’ll induce fear and confusion in the recipricant, but total and unabashed joy in The Running Man‘s audience. Because Arnold knows that a good one-liner can alleviate the tension of a blood-spattered action scene like few other things in life, but a great corny line can live longer than even the most violent imagery. Because there are one-liners, and then there’s this:
[flashvideo filename=videos/Ramfist.avi.FLV /]
This line is made all the better if you’ve seen The Terminator. Because as Brian Thompson’s character could attest (were he still alive), Schwarzenegger actually does that in his opening moments of the movie.
The Running Man is exactly what happens when Arnold Schwarzenegger takes over the control of a film. He runs wild here, making the movie less about whatever the hell the plot was supposed to be and more about killing people in brutal ways and spouting out post mortem one-liners. And I love it. While I could go into depth about how different the film is to the original Stephen King story (which is good; you should read it), this movie is an entirely separate entity and should be treated as such.
Released the same year as Predator, The Running Man sets forth with the notion that since no single opponent (and apparently not even a literal army of lower henchmen) can defeat Arnold, he must face off against several big opponents here to make the conflict even remotely believable. And what a group of villains! We have Blaxploitation legend and former runningback Jim Brown, ex-pro wrestler and Predator co-star Jesse Ventura (that’s right, we get an Arnie vs. Ventura battle!), frequent giant-Asian henchman Professor Toru Tanaka, and more! This isn’t just a fun action movie, it’s Arnold Schwarzenegger vs. The World.
The plot (if you can even call it that) concerns prison escapee Ben Richards (Schwarzenegger) attempting to flee the continental United States (now under totalitarian rule), taking with him a hostage (Maria Conchita Alonso). He is soon captured and forced to be a contestant on a game show hosted by Richard Dawson. Yaphet Kotto and Mick Fleetwood show up as rebels… so yeah, it’s fucking wacky. But in a good way.
Bennie E. Dobbins, who worked second unit in Commando, returns for the same duties here. And while former Starsky & Hutch star Paul Michael Glaser is listed as the director, it’s pretty clear producer Rob Cohen and Arnold Schwarzenegger are calling a lot of the shots. But despite being pulled in several directions at once, The Running Man ultimately succeeds in what it needs to do: provide a good time whilst simultaneously making Arnold Schwarzenegger look even more bad ass. As such, we get plenty of explosions, gun fights, chase sequences, and enough pithy lines to make Mr. Freeze blush.
So appropriately, it’s the Arnold show all the way through. The main villains may have their over the top entrances and side characters often get moments for slightly dramatic death scenes, the movie is all about how big, bad, tough, gruff, and totally macho its star is. Originally slated to be headlined by Dolph Lundgren, I honestly can’t see anyone but the Austrian Oak in this role. He’s a cigar-chomping, prison-breaking bad-ass who can rip bolted-down weight benches right out of the floor with people still on them, fight chainsaw-wielding motorcycle baddies unarmed, and goes from a musclebound fugitive trying to escape from a corrupt system and distracted populace to a god-like warrior, facing off against the Man. He becomes the leader of the rebellion, a martyr and a king all at once, like a 1980s Jesus with a machine gun.
Like Jesus, Arnold “dies” for our (and the nasty network’s) sins but rises up after a brief hiatus. Unlike Jesus, Arnold does it with style, shooting baddies left and right before taking out our main antagonist in one of action cinema’s greatest villain comeuppances ever. You’re damn right it hits the spot. Throw in a fantastic Harold Faltermeyer score, some great cinematography (sure, no one seems to have ever told these guys about soft lighting, but it works for this wacky little movie), awesome set designs, cool special effects, and you’ve got an Arnold classic.
Honestly, I like this movie more every time I watch it. Which is admittedly strange, as when I first saw it I marked it off as a lesser Arnie flick. Now I think it’s essential. Definitely pick this one up.
[THE MORAL OF THE STORY]
If you tell someone you’ll be back, you’d better be back. You wouldn’t want to be a liar.
[THE AOBG ACTION CHECKLIST]
[X] Athlete(s) Turned “Actor”
[ ] Clinging To The Outside Of A Moving Vehicle
[X] Crotch Attack
[X] Dialogue Telling Us How Bad-Ass The Main Character(s) Is/Are
[ ] Ending Featuring An Ambulance, A Blanket or A Towel
[X] Giant Explosion(s)
[X] Heavy Artillery [lightning shooting bracelets?]
[X] Improvised Weapon(s)
[X] Macho Mode(s) Of Transportation
[ ] Main Character Sports Facial Accessory(s)
[ ] Manly Embrace(s)
[X] Notorious Stunt-Man Sighting [Sven-Ole Thorsen]
[ ] Passage(s) Of Time Via Montage
[X] Politically Fueled Plot Point(s)
[X] Senseless Destruction Of Property
[X] Shoot Out(s) and/or Sword Fight(s)
[X] Slow-Motion Finishing Move(s)/Death(s)
[X] Stupid Authoritative Figure(s)
[X] Substance Usage and/or Abuse
[ ] Tis The Season
[X] Torture Sequence(s)
[ ] Unnecessary Sequel
[ ] Vehicle Chase(s)
[X] Vigilante Justice
[TOTAL: 17 outta 25]
The Running Man (1987) © Paramount Pictures / Review © AllOuttaBubbleGum.com