Wednesday, November 09, 2016

The Running Man (1987)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

Most movies about the future tend to go one of two ways. You have some movies that see us as some utopian society where everyone is happy and everything is perfect, at least for the majority of people. The other way is where no one is happy and nothing is even close to being perfect, at least not for the vast majority of people. There are usually a couple of people at the ‘top’ that take advantage of everyone else. The Running Man is an example of the second movie.

It’s set in the near future with a dictatorial regime oppressing the people at any expense. The big show is called The Running Man. Felons get a chance to win freedom by competing in a game. They’re let loose in a 400-block area and ‘stalkers’ try to kill them. (If you want to know what a stalker is, think of American Gladiators on steroids. Jesse Ventura plays one.) If the ‘contestants’ win, they live as free men. If not, they die.

Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Ben Richards, a military officer who’s ordered to kill 1500 innocent civilians who are protesting. Richards disobeys a direct order and tries to abort the mission. Richards is relieved of command and sent to prison, falsely accused of actually killing them. He’s known as the Butcher of Bakersfield.

Alas, not even prison can keep Richards down. He and two friends escape. (Fans of Homicide: Life on the Street will recognize Yaphet Kotto as one of Richards’s friends.) This catches the attention of Damian Killian, host of The Running Man. (Fans of Family Feud will recognize Richard Dawson as Killian.) The Running Man’s ratings have reached a plateau. It’s the number one show, but Killian thinks that he can do better. Richards is his man.

Normally, the show isn’t allowed to use military prisoners, but Richards escaped, making him fair game. Killian manages to get him and offers Richards the option of going on the show or letting his two fellow escapees go on in his place. Richards reluctantly goes in. During the escape, he takes one Amber Mendez along to help him leave the area. (She’s living in the apartment where Richards’s brother used to live.) When she sees a TV newscast of Richards’s escape attempt, she realizes that the government is capable of twisting the truth. (Maria Conchita Alonso plays Mendez. I haven’t been able to find any other movies with her on Netflix.) Fortunately, her position within the TV network allows her access to the unaltered footage of Richards and his mission.

When Richards is put into the game, Killian also puts in the two fellow escapees anyway, just to liven things up. (Mendez is also put into the game when she’s discovered.) The four of them do pretty well. They actually kill several of the stalkers. It turns out that the game itself is rigged. I don’t want to give away the whole movie. (Those that have seen it know that I’ve already left out most of the major details.) However, bear in mind that this is a dismal view of our future. This type of movie usually winds up with an improvement, however small.

This is a very bleak, dismal future. I’d say that it’s not for kids, but a lot of the violence is shrouded in humor. The stalkers have these elaborate costumes that couldn’t possible be taken seriously. Also, as Richards is about to be put into the playing field, he turns to Killian and says, “I’ll be back.” (Sound familliar?) Members of The Running Man’s live audience get to participate by selecting the next stalker to enter the field or guessing who will make the next kill. Those who participate get The Running Man home game.

The real fun of watching a movie like this is in the details. In the prison camp, Richards is carrying an I beam. He casually throws it aside like it was Styrofoam. You’ll also notice a poster in one scene that says “The Hate Boat.” (Talk about a dismal future.) If you look very closely when Killian is looking for felons, I’m pretty sure that one of the nicknames was “Pepsi.” (I wasn’t able to catch it in rewind and I can’t seem to get the computer to play the movie at half speed. I’d appreciate it if someone would let me know if I’m right or wrong.)

The funny thing about this movie is that it came out before reality TV made it big. Granted, nothing has gone to this extreme. However, it’s not that far off.

I was able to get this movie on DVD from Netflix. The disc I got simply had the movie and a trailer. It’s nothing special. If you’re into the ease that comes with DVD, go for it, but if you’re renting it, you could just as easily get it on VHS without missing anything. 

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