I love Arnold movies. Flat out adore them (go ahead, disregard my opinions). While I'm not that comfortable having him decide the fate of my state, he's a great movie star and is quite possibly the most iconic action star since John Wayne. As a fan whose had to defend his taste against hordes of battle hardened snobs, I've come to recognize that Arnold's films come in two forms, there's the kind that are "OK" to like: The Terminators, True Lies, the first Conan, Predator. Then there are the movies that only a true fan can love Collateral Damage, Commando, Eraser, The 6th Day. Of the latter type The Running Man is king, towering above the others like a colossus, reveling in its cheese and camp in a way that is truly majestic
The story of The Running Man is "based" on a Stephen King book (written as Richard Bachman) however, it is irrelevant to this review because it resembles the film as much as an apple resembles an orange. The story opens with Ben Richards, a soldier in the totalitarian state of America. When ordered to fire into a "food riot" (VAL DE VANT ISS FUD FO GOT SAKE!!) he rebels and is sentenced to prison. The massacre is blamed on him anyway (with some hilarious doctored footage) and soon the entire country hates "The butcher of Bakersfield." Arnold escapes the prison, but is soon recaptured and forced to compete in a deadly game show where contestants are hunted by 5 stalkers: Bizarre professional killers.
God where to start. The Running Man was made while reality TV was still an unreality. So sadly some of what seemed over the top satire back in the 80's is now a rather tame night of Fear Factor (Climbing for Dollars particularly would be right at home). Still, the rest of the movie is so wonderfully gloriously over the top and down the other side that it is simply incomparable. We could talk about the stalker who skates around in his underwear, covered in Lite Brites, shooting electricity as he sings opera. Or the inexplicably monikered "Professor Sub Zero". Or dialogue that even Ed Wood would shake his head at ("But these are last year’s winners !!!!" "No last year’s LOSERS AHAHAHAHAAAA!!!). What about Captain Freedom (Jesse Ventura) teaching aerobics in a bizarre Bubsy Berkly inspired routine? Or the interpretive dance funeral that sends off each of the stalkers? Bizarre doesn't begin to cover it.
The action is cool, if not up with Arnold's top tier work. The set pieces make good use of the assortment of bizarre weapons at play. The choreography is intense but at the same time it keeps the affable tongue in cheek humor that is so agreeable with the rest of the movie. Arnold carries the whole thing with his usual deft mix of humor, strange one-liners (SUB ZERO IS JUS PLAIN ZERO), charisma and raw physicality. Maria Alonso is allowed to be a touch tougher then the usual "Ahnold girl", while Richard Dawson puts a wonderful spin on his role as the host of Family Feud playing an absolute cold hearted bastard. The assorted Stalkers (Mick Fleetwood, and Jesse Ventura among others) are fittingly bizarre and do what they can.
In the end, if The Running Man has a problem it is that it pulls back a few times too often. We're robbed of the chance to see a Ventura Vs. Arnold brawl and a few times the film takes its "Ahnold starts a GLORIOUS WORKER REVOLUTION" a bit too seriously for its own goofy good. On the whole though, despite missed opportunities, shoddy future world, and utterly bizarre people and events the film works. Trying to critique a goofy Arnold movie is like trying to critique a clown. What can you say? That he wears floppy shoes, the big red nose? That's the point of the clown, there's nothing you can do. It’s not so much an Arnold movie, as THE Arnold movie. And that should tell you how I stand.
For such a goofy movie you might think that the tone would stay consistent for the extras. You would be wrong. The makers seem to be laboring under the idea that there film was a masterwork. So what we get instead are two ponderously self serious documentaries about the evolution of reality TV and the state of our personal freedom and privacy post 9/11. The documentaries are well made and interesting but they simply would seem more comfortable on a Noam Chomsky DVD as opposed to a movie about Arnold killing oddly costumed game show hosts in THE FUTURE!!!!
This film was directed by Paul Micheal Glaser (better know as Starsky of the famous duo). While this sends the camp factor even higher (If possible) it doesn't make for particularly insightful commentary. Don't forget this is the guy who made Kazaam. The commentary, while featuring plenty delusions of grandeur, still manages to be pretty good, if not something that I plan on watching again. On the whole the package is really aching from a notable lack of Arnold.