Directed by Paul Michael Glaser
Set in the far-off year of 2019, Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a wrongly convicted police officer who after escaping is re-captured and forced into participating in the most popular game show in the country-The Running Man. Now he must survive and get revenge on the show’s host Damon Killian (a deliciously villainous Richard Dawson) and also overthrow the government with the help of Maria Conchita Alonso as Amber Méndez and Mick Fleetwood as the creatively named Mic. This is a cast that could have only come together in the 80s.
The music is awful. The dialogue is clunky. The script feels like it’s not quite finished. It’s directed like a television movie. The props look cheap. And the sets are just bad. But somehow the movie is still amazing. I just don’t get it. But I love this movie. It’s 80s cheez done right.
In the opening scene Richards is ordered by his superiors to open fire on civilians in the middle of a food riot. He refuses and decides to go back to base but his superiors order the rest of the crew to take command and carry out the orders which they do.
What gets me in this scene is that these people are up in a helicopter with the doors open and they are not experiencing even a slight breeze. Not only that but the rear projection used to make them look like they’re up in the air doesn’t quite match up. The helicopter is supposed be moving forward but it looks like it’s moving across the sky at an angle. Somebody mounted that camera wrong. For me it’s a hilariously bad detail that just adds to the film’s charm.
Another prime example of the it’s-so-bad-it’s-good of this film is the labor camp Richards eventually winds up in. Judging by Schwarzenegger’s muscle tone, I’m guessing they have one hell of a gym there. I don’t know what they’re supposed to be doing exactly though at this labor camp. Are they repairing the building? Are they taking it apart? Or are they building something else? It’s not quite clear but they have a lot of blow torches and saws and steel beams to carry around and all the prisoners are very poorly guarded. There are maybe 10 guards for all these prisoners and that’s being generous.
There is a barrier around this camp that looks like a bunch of exam lights with green and red flashing lights added to them. They didn’t even try here. These “devices” are supposed to set off an explosive collar all the prisoners wear if they pass beyond them. And this security net is taken down by a prison trustee that looked over a guard’s shoulder. Worst. Future. Prison. EVER!
After escaping from the labor camp, Ben decides to go to his brother’s apartment but apparently his brother has been sent off to a reeducation camp and Amber Méndez (Maria Conchita Alonso) has moved in. She’s not home and he’s able to use his brother’s old passcode and walk in. Nobody thought it might be a good idea to change the passcode? Why that didn’t occur to anyone I don’t know. More importantly, why isn’t this authoritarian state watching his brother’s apartment? He apparently didn’t know that his brother was taken away so it would be a logical first stop for him.
The movie works mostly on the star power of its lead Arnold Schwarzenegger. Richards is all attitude here. Everybody’s full of crap and he doesn’t wanna join up. We know that eventually changes or there wouldn’t be much of a movie. Ever watch this and ask yourself how a guy with a thick Austrian accent got that Americanized of a name? But that was par for the course for Arnold at the time.
This movie just reeks of the 80s. That’s not a bad thing. Obviously there’s Arnold Schwarzenegger in the cast but you have Maria Conchita Alonso in it as well. It just felt like such an 80s move to cast her. Back then she seemed to be all over the place. You couldn’t see a movie without finding her in it. Kind of like Swoosie Kurtz was for a while.
The casting of Mick Fleetwood is one of those things that is kind of mystifying. Mic is a significant supporting character. Mick Fleetwood was not known as a box office draw (and never has been). His agent must have made an amazing pitch.
Who knew Richard Dawson could be so entertaining as a movie villain? He knows this is a cheesy movie and he brings the right level of villainousness (is that a word?) to everything he does in his role as Damon Killian. He hams it up every second he’s on the screen. He’s the right level of jerk and over the top that his role and this movie needs. I really wish he’d been able to do more stuff like this. I think it would’ve been so very good to see him as a villain more often but at least we were gifted with this performance.
This movie is filled with crappy henchmen in the form of the gladiators that Ben Richards must fight against. They are just bad. Dynamo (Erland Van Lidth De Jeude-just rolls off your tongue) is probably the worst and campiest. He’s an opera singing gladiator that fires energy bolts and drives around in a go cart covered in balsa wood. At least that’s what it looks like. The implication is that all the gladiators killed the previous runners with their bare hands but given the way they acted in the movie I’m not sure how. And that’s part of the enjoyment.
The henchmen are just there to get their asses kicked by Schwarzenegger and company. They have no defined characteristics beyond the superficial things used to differentiate them. The only one you could possibly believe as a champion is Captain Freedom (Jesse Ventura). Then again, he looks as if he’s channeling his inner pro-wrestler here. He wouldn’t have made it in the WWF if he wasn’t convincing.
This is very much a guy movie. It’s all testosterone and muscle and it never tries to apologize for that. It’s one of those movies that could only have been made in the 80s during the action film craze of the time. You couldn’t get away with the mindless action today. It just wouldn’t wash in today’s cinema. At least not of a major theatrical release. You might find something like it in the direct to video pile, but it wouldn’t be as well executed.
But somehow the movie works. Schwarzenegger muscles his way through it and delivers one-liners as only he could back then. Maria Conchita Alonso does the Latina caricature as only she could then. Richard Dawson hams it up each scene. And it works.
You don’t mind any of the flaws or the assorted quirks because you’re having fun. It’s junk food entertainment and there’s nothing wrong with having junk food every now and then.
What we’ve got here is a cheesy 80s classic. It’s an amazing movie that always manages to entertain even though it really shouldn’t. Despite its numerous and glaring flaws, everyone involved should be very proud because people still love this movie and it does deserve that love. It’s a fun film that has a certain charm that cannot be denied.