The Running Man

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In the ear future convicted criminals are forced to take part as bait in a hideous TV manhunt. When Ben Richards refuses to fire on a crowd if starving citizens, he is picked to go on the show, and must survive such hunters as Captain Freedom and Fireball before teaming up with some revolutionaries and fighting back.


Arnold Schwarzenegger may have been in his ascendancy in the late ‘80s, but this duff piece of dystopian sci-fi warbling, based very loosely on a Stephen King short story and optimistically aiming for satire, could well have been a piece straight-to-video trash if it wasn’t for the hulking, monosyllabic presence of the big man. Strangely, time has given its preposterous ideas of capital punishment as reality TV a meniscus of relevance (in the face of recent obsessions with real-life consumed programming) but no amount of bitter humour can make-up for the shoddy production values, ham-fisted action, awful performances (and wackier casting) and over-reliance on Schwarzenegger tossing out turgid one liners when a scene inevitably flags.

Surprsingly, given how indifferent the script is, it was written by Steven E. de Souza who lent Commando an ironic glint, but here seems stranded, caught between the potential for caustic relevance (a future driven by TV consumption while downtrodden masses starve) and the necessity of crunching Arnie-action. There is some unctuous urgency in Richard Dawson’s take on the smarmy TV host who sends his victims off down a shoot to get running before the hulks in tights try to fry or chainsaw them to bits. Such lumpen foils as Jim Brown and Jesse Ventura (and a clutch of former pro-wrestlers) take on the job of annihilating the lycra clad Schwarzenegger but only manage to make him not the worst actor on show.

There is more madness awaiting the film as it desperately tries to pad out the telling but slight King story of an ordinary man caught in this television created nightmare — aged rockers Mick Fleetwood and Dweezel Zappa turn up as revolutionaries camped out in the backlot ruins of the show. Now Schwarzenegger, sounding words like depth charges with all the varied intonation of a bassoon, must take up the cause with pretty Maria Conchita Alonso, which amounts to little more than a splurge of tame explosions and lot of shooting, accompanied by those increasingly stale one-liners bouncing off the four walls. Director (and former Starskey) Paul Michael Glazeer’s dreaded futurescape amounts to a few chainlink fences and oil drums ready for the exploding, making Blade Runner seem, like, well Blade Runner (it’s not even worth the comparison). However, with history’s helpful hindsight, it transpires the greatest nonsense of all was the very idea of casting the Governor of California as a revolutionary: “I’m not into politics, I’m into survival.” Yeah, whatever.

Never managing to look more hi-tech or further on from 1987 than, well, Hi-tech trainers, this Arnie vehicle still runs it's bloody course without dropping many gears. A brainless, breathless thrill.