Story: After a global economic collapse, the United States has pulled toward the far right and turned into a totalitarian empire, with even basic freedoms removed for most of the population, save those who control or fund the police state. The citizens have every aspect of their lives controlled, even art has been heavily censored or outright banned. In an effort to keep the populace docile and to make an example of those who would push back against this cruel system, the government runs a game show known as The Running Man. When revolutionaries or outsiders are captured, they’re set loose to compete on this show and if they survive, they’re promised to have their freedom returned. The latest contestant is Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger), who was once part of a government military squad, but he was removed when he refused to kill innocent civilians. Of course, that isn’t what the audience is told and as Richards fights for his life, can even he beat the kind of odds stacked against him in the game and even if so, is the promise of freedom real?
Entertainment Value: The Running Man is a wild, high impact action movie, even by 1980s genre standards, but the narrative has a lot of interesting elements and was based on a novella by horror legend Stephen King. The story seems a little prophetic even, showing us a world in which game shows have evolved in life and death competitions to distract the masses from the realities of the world, a fresh spin on gladiator battles from Rome. While we haven’t reached that point as a society, the reality television market has become an entertainment staple, with some of the programs tasking people to do various difficult or demeaning challenges to earn fame and fortune. The movie benefits from the solid story elements immensely, as the action scenes alone are fun, but on the repetitive side, so having some substance with all that style is a boon. And the action scenes are fun, with big, splashy set pieces, grandiose visuals, and over the top characters, all combining to create true spectacles of violence that end up quite memorable. The repetition lessens the draw, but just a little, as the game show structure more than covers for and explains the process. In the end, this is one of the more well rounded 80s action overload pictures, so for fans of explosive action, outlandish 80s elements, or Family Feud’s Richard Dawson, this is highly recommended.
This movie has quite a colorful ensemble of talent involved, which is good, since some of these characters needed to be larger than life. Of course, Arnold Schwarzengger is the ideal choice to play the over the top lead, as he can handle both the action sequences and the one liners like a champ, as he usually does. He embraces the outlandish tone of the material and goes for broke, especially when he gets into the quips and banter with the villains. I know I always wanted to see Arnold and Richard Dawson square off, so The Running Man made that dream come. Dawson is fantastic here as well, using his vast experience as a smarmy, insincere game show host to effective ends, giving us just the right vibe for our host of the show. Jesse Ventura is here and fun to watch, running with the campiness, while Maria Conchita Alonso provides a great balance to the otherwise testosterone soaked atmosphere. The cast also includes Jim Brown, Yaphet Kotto, and Sven-Ole Thorsen.