Maria Conchita Alonso
Erland van Lidth
Marvin J. McIntyre
Professor Toru Tanaka
Karen Leigh Hopkins
Action Gore Gameshow
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The Running Man (1987)
31st Oct 11
A once-in-a-lifetime cross-breed of Noel Edmonds’ entire oeuvre and Big Arnie before he stopped cracking jokes about people he has casually maimed.
Even though Harold Faltermayer is credited as composer, the year is 2017. Art has been mass-censored, the world economy has collapsed, food riots are commonplace and detention zones dominate. The most popular TV show is a sadistic game show entitled The Running Man made by a network that also produces something called “The Hate Boat”. Schwarzenegger is a wrongly imprisoned helicopter pilot whose framing as “The Butcher of Bakersfield” is no surprise in a nation brainwashed by the media. His bold prison escape results in an exploding head within the first ten minutes, courtesy of perimeter-activated neck collars that predate the Rutger Hauer vehicle Wedlock. Arnie looks good in a loud shirt and a (short lived) beard but the regulation one-liners are as woodenly delivered as ever (“Give you a lift?”) – Therein lies a good part of this flick’s charm.
As an actor, Paul Michael Glaser had one of the title roles in the popular “Starsky and Hutch”, and here has a lot of fun, in the same year as Robocop, satirizing a hellish but pretty accurate vision of Future Television. We get to see a memorable snippet of “Climbing For Dollars”, an extension of the “Grab A Grand” bit from “Noel’s House Party” (which was happening only a few short years after this movie’s release) in which hapless schmucks do just that while ravenous dogs snap at their heels waiting to savage them. Richard Dawson plays a fascist version of his own “Family Feud” image as the smirking host of “The Running Man”, which selects its contestants from police files, routinely and manipulatively edits reality to rile up the bloodthirsty audience and allows middle aged housewives the chance to select which “stalker” will pursue that week’s doomed contestant. (To put it into perspective, this bit of casting is the equivalent of casting Les Dennis in a British action movie). Arnie’s presence as the latest contestant bodes well for ratings (“I can get 10 points for his biceps alone”).
This breezy precursor to genuine shows like “Gladiators” squeezes Arnie and fellow contestant / synthesizer musician Maria Conchita Alonso into custom-made one-piece yellow lycra suits and episodically has them go mano a mano with a succession of gurning, gimmicky grotesques. In a genuinely bizarre cast that features Mick Fleetwood (!) as the leader of an army of dissenters, Jesse Ventura plays “America’s own Captain Freedom”, Professor Toru Tanaka is “Sub Zero”, a limb-slicing, brick shit house ice hockey player from Hell, Gus Rethwisch is “Buzz-Saw”, a kind of forgotten member of the Texas Chainsaw clan (“The saw’s part of me!”) who gets castrated (“He had to split” cracks Arnie), “Fireball” Jim Brown has a jet pack and Erland Van Lidth from Alone in the Dark is the wide-load, electricity-manipulating Dynamo, the only one of the goons who sings opera on his rampage. Van Lidth is memorably derided by Alonso as a “dickless moron with a battery up his ass”.
The movie is engaging in its unsubtle commentary of the enduring popularity of ultra-violent movies like Arnie’s 80’s cycle : both the movie and the faux-show within it frequently cut from a scene of gruesome mayhem to jubilant audience reactions, including sweet old ladies riled up enough to excitedly note “That boy’s one mean mother-fucker!” By this stage of his career, Arnie hadn’t yet succumbed to outright comedies but was already a walking self-parody, with the inevitable “I’ll be back” leading to a Dawson retort of “Only in a re-run”. Some of the gags deliver nicely: the game show’s narration is often very funny – the worst dirt it can find on Alonso is that she cheated on college exams and had sexual relations with two or three men in a year (!).
“Americans love television! We give them what they want!” rants Dawson in a movie that interestingly foreshadows future movie technology as well as the fate of sensationalist television. At one key point, Dawson oversees the digital superimposing of our heroes’ faces on to stunt double bodies in a bid to convince the audience that Arnie and Alonso have been defeated; this kind of movie magic became routine for action movies in the 21st century. It’s all fast paced, undemanding fun, with the videogame-like structure working in the movie’s favour ; years later and on a much lower budget level, Maurice Devereaux remade the whole premise with a horror twist for Slashers.