The Running Man (1987) Directed by Paul Michael Glaser. With Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maria Conchita Alonso, Richard Dawson, Yaphet Kotto, Jim Brown and Jesse Ventura.
Loosely based on a 1982 Stephen King novel and directed by Paul Michael Glaser, The Running Man is a tongue-in-cheek action romp starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as a government police pilot, falsely accused of murdering a crowd of innocent civilians.
Set in 2017, in the wake of a global economic meltdown, America has become a totalitarian society. The authorities use television to pacify a blood-thirsty population by broadcasting elaborate TV executions of convicted criminals. It is very much in-step with what is making huge waves in popular culture right now – The Hunger Games has become a behemoth of a blockbuster franchise on the back of the same idea.
While The Running Man is ripe for and brimming with the sort of satire that helped set fly the career of Paul Verhoeven with RoboCop the very same year, it lets itself down with its stale action sequences, formulaic plotting and tendency for the absurd. There are also many moments where it becomes too daft to laugh with. The gladiators themselves (Buzzsaw, Fireball, Subzero, Dynamo) are intentional cartoon characters and while they offer a degree of amusement, their presence ensures the battle scenes never achieve any genuine tension. That’s the thing – the background to the film and the some of the satire is resonant, yet many elements that propel the plot developments are so flippant that we never become invested.
Between the clumsy gun battles and uneven tone, the film is perhaps most memorable for Richard Dawson’s performance as Damon Killian – the parasitic host of The Running Man game show. His routine is pure parody, capturing just the right tonal balance the film around him fails to fully establish. It would appear Stephen King’s original idea got lost in the translation of becoming an Arnold Schwarzenegger action vehicle.
When the final credits roll and John Parr strikes up with the stock 80’s power ballad (Restless Heart) Running Away With You, you might be asking yourself what you just put yourself through. There are good moments, but Paul Michael Glaser runs away from the opportunity to do something more interesting than making loud noises and doling out cheesy Arnie one-liners. Due to the light, campy tone, it isn’t hard to see why it has gathered appreciation in cult corners, but ultimately, it doesn’t amount to nearly as much as it ought to have. 2/5