When discussing my favourite movie from everyone’s favourite Austrian, I’m met with puzzled looks when I say The Running Man. It could easily be argued that The Terminator is Arnie’s best movie and Predator is the most enjoyable in terms of action while Kindergarten Cop is high on the ‘guilty pleasures list’, but The Running Man is a different kind of Arnie movie. It has all the clichés associated with his acting career, but it’s surrounded by a movie that is trying to make a bold statement about TV and the media. It doesn’t really work, but it gives it a good go.
Released in 1987 and loosely based upon a novel of the same name from Stephen King (under a pseudonym), The Running Man is an action movie set in the not too distant future (like a lot of movies where in the late 80s) and features Arnie as Ben Richards, a policeman who is framed for the murder of innocent civilians while trying to suppress a food riot. After escaping from prison, he tries to hide low in his brother’s apartment but instead finds Amber Mendez, a composer for TV station ICS who broadcasts the number one television show, The Running Man. He takes her hostage in order to escape to Hawaii but his cover is blown when Amber shouts her mouth off. At the request of TV host Damon Killian (because his viewing number have remained flat), Richards must now take part in The Running Man - a gladiator-style show where “Runners” attempt to avoid being killed by the “Stalkers” to be pardoned of their crime. He is joined by fellow escapees Laughlin and Weiss and eventually Amber (after she discovers Richards’ innocence) as they attempt to survive against colourful killers such as Subzero (a Japanese hockey player who kills people with his bladed stick and exploding pucks), Buzzsaw (a nutter with a chainsaw on a motorcycle) and Dynamo (a fat opera singer with a light bulb Mohawk and a costume covered in red and green LEDs).
However his spotlight is nearly stolen by Family Feud host Richard Dawson who plays a parody of himself in the form of Damon Killian, the host of The Running Man. On TV he’s an old lady kissing darling who gives away fabulous prizes but behind the scenes he is an egotistical money grabbing sociopath who cares about nothing more than the rating his show does. While he is a stock villain and typical Arnie fodder, Dawson clearly loves playing this role and he does so with such gusto and energy. He is a man who looks like he is loving every single of frame of movie he’s in and he even gets to retort against Arnie’s infamous “I’ll be back” line with “only in a re-run”. Had he been up against a lesser screen presence, he would be the stand out performer of the movie.
But it’s not just the idiocy, hilarious script or performances that I love about The Running Man. The action sequences between Richards and the Stalkers are highly entertaining and don’t rely on blood or gore to give the audience its kicks. Much like a video game, Richards has to work his way through each Stalker like an end level boss who he dispatches of in creative ways. Be it strangling Subzero with barbed wire (what a pain in the neck), cutting Buzzsaw in half (he had to split) or blowing up Fireball (what a hothead), the kills never let the movie down and the quips that accompany them are just outstanding. Not many movies can get away with having a fight scene on a hellish hockey rink complete with goals that double as cages, but The Running Man can.
But let’s face facts, The Running Man is a stupid movie with an idiotic plot, stupid dialogue, lame characters and mostly bad acting (Maria Conchita Alonso is less intelligible than Schwarzenegger) and somehow the whole thing just works. Despite its many flaws, the movie is absolutely brilliant and thoroughly entertaining and even influenced one of my favourite games on the Super Nintendo – Super Smash TV (“fabulous prizes!”). There are a lot of movies that get branded with the ‘so bad they’re good’ label, but The Running Man isn’t one of those movies. The Running Man is so bad it’s awesome. Easily my favourite Arnie movie.