One of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s lesser known B pictures is “The Running Man” directed by Paul Michael Glaser, and adapted from Richard Bachman (Stephen King’s pseudonym). It’s only a so so film because it just becomes more of the same as the film carries on.
Schwarzenegger is Ben Richards, a police helicopter pilot who has been framed for the mass murder of unarmed protesters vying for food within a dystopian future set in 2017 (thirty years away from the year this film was made, 1987). Jump to a year and a half later and Richards manages to escape a harsh penal colony with sidekicks in tow, played by Yaphet Kotto and Shane Black. When Richards is later apprehended once again, he is forced to participate in the country’s number one gladiator game show, The Running Man. There he faces off with his same friends as well as the necessary token female, Maria Conchita Alonso, against various villains of the week. Enter Sub Zero. Then Buzzsaw. Then comes Dynamo. Then Fireball. The crowd loves the violence for the sake of entertainment. The game show’s host known not so subtly as Killian loves it even more for the climbing ratings.
The host is none other than Family Feud’s Richard Dawson. He’s the best attraction of the film by more or less playing a harsher caricature of the television personality we all know with the carnation and the lean kisses. He charms the old ladies in the audience while he commands his production crew to amp up the violent entertainment.
The interesting thing about watching “The Running Man” is the environment it lives in. Media platforms lie to the audiences to heighten the drama and cheers, while the government controls the content of what’s shown on the screen.
It’s funny to watch Killian parallel a man like Vince McMahon, who gladly opens up his WWF arena and viewings for the sake of unlimited profits while a worldwide health crisis pandemic is evident. In “The Running Man,” this same kind of sport is a sensation while Los Angeles is run amok in crime, hunger and poverty.
I recall watching this film in 1987 on home video and being an entertained teen. Yet, I also laughed at how over the top the violent schlock was, while the disregard for news as well as the ease of influence had been shown. Now I watch the film and sadly it’s not so far from some of its fiction to being close to the truth.
Again, this is not a great film. Steven E de Souza wrote a script lacking in good punchlines for humor and the action is all the same from one scene to another. Ben Richards and his band beat each gladiator enemy by their own device more or less. There’s hardly any suspense to the picture as none of these dudes are any match for the Arnold we are all familiar with.
From a social viewpoint, there’s some interest in whatever prophecies came of “The Running Man” all these years later. However, if you’re looking for a thriller with good action to hold your attention, then there are dozens of other options to consider instead.