“I’m not into politics. I’m into survival”: ‘The Running Man’ Review
Released at the height of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s popularity and based on a story by celebrated author Stephen King, The Running Man is an absolute blast to watch from beginning to end. Before The Hunger Games, before Battle Royale, there was The Running Man.
We follow Ben Richards (Schwarzenegger), who is wrongly convicted of a crime he didn’t commit and forced to survive in a deadly television show called “The Running Man.” Set in a totalitarian United States, the show is hosted by the popular Damon Killian (an incredibly effective Richard Dawson) and his plan to rid criminals by having them survive the show as he sets professional killers loose on them for everyone to watch.
Not only is The Running Man kind of an insanely prescient film now more than ever but it accurately predicted the boom and popularity of reality shows in the United States. A lot of what makes The Running Man such an effective and fun midnight movie is how colorful, violent and completely insane it is from top to bottom. The majority of the film operates on this obvious satirical level that chooses to address themes as reality television, power in a totalitarian government and fear of corrupt authority figures; they’re all broadly painted as the film just chooses to have fun with its premise and deliver insane kills and cheesy one liners, but it's admirable that the themes are there though for the audience to think about.
Released in the same year as Predator (that other great sci-fi action classic), this finds Schwarzenegger at the top of his game, and he portrays Richards kind of an everyman and can make him sympathetic as he tries to survive the crazy proceedings that he’s been put through. Speaking of the cast, this also includes the great Yaphet Kotto, Maria Conchita Alonso, Dawson (who had the experience hosting television shows and made his Killian character a memorable villain) and even Jesse Venture (who co stars with Schwarzenegger in Predator).
One of the issues with the film that I wish the film had dedicated more time to develop is its totalitarian setting. There’s a lot of material you can mine from that setting, and there are certain aspects of that, but it’s all more in favor of big action set pieces. Even the satirical premise, which they do spend a lot of time on, is kind of straightforward and maybe there’s a better version of that idea that commits to bringing this vision to life in full satirical fashion.
The Running Man is not top tier King and certainly not top tier Schwarzenegger as well, but it’s a bloody, campy and action-packed '80s classic that is nonetheless worth watching. It’s a fascinating premise is brought up to its fullest potential, but the setting, the cast, and the big action set pieces along with the one-liners are more than enough to make it an enjoyable, good time and an action movie with a little bit more than blood and guts on its mind.