(1987, Action/SciFi/Postapocalyptic, color)
Matt Sloan, Aaron Yonda and Chad Vader
The eighties of the future looks worse than the eighties of the eighties.
In a Nutshell:
A falsely accused man must fight for his life on a reality game show of the future.
Armed Forces helicopter pilot Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger) refuses an order to fire on the food-rioting masses of the dystopian future. His Armed Forces passengers subdue him and gun the crowd down anyway. The corrupt future government blames the massacre on Richards and shuts him away in a prison/work camp.
Some time later, Richards conspires with members of the resistance to break out of the foundry/explody-head prison. He and his best two resistance buddies (played by Yaphet Kotto and Marvin McIntyre; their characters’ names escape me and aren’t that important anyway) flee to an outdoor fair of some kind, where they get their exploding collars removed by a Dumbledore wannabe in khakis.
They go their separate ways. Richards heads to his brother’s apartment, only to find it occupied by a shapely Latina named Amber (Maria Conchita Alonso). Richards interrupts her lingerie workout routine to tie her to a weightlifting bench and ask after his brother. Amber tells him the previous owner was taken away by the government a month ago. Richards steals her money and forces her to help him escape to the foreign country of Hawaii. Amber gets away and turns him in when they get to the airport.
Richards wakes up in a holding cell, where he’s greeted by game show host Killian (Richard Dawson). Killian hosts a show called “The Running Man” in which convicts are given a chance at freedom if they will run a gauntlet of Stalkers (i.e. crazed killers). Richards agrees, on the condition that his resistance buddies (also recaptured) not be included in the show. Of course Killian goes back on his word and sends all three convicts into the Running Man arena. They survive the first Stalker—a, er, big-boned hockey player with a sharpened stick named Sub Zero—when Richards strangles him with barbed wire.
Meanwhile, Amber has noticed that the official account of Richards’ capture doesn’t seem to match the one she experienced. They invented a body count, for one thing. Curious, she uses her position as an employee of the state-run media to break into a restricted area and find undoctored footage of Richards’ supposed helicopter rampage. The authorities catch her, suit her up, and throw her into the Running Man arena as well.
Richards isn’t exactly happy to see her, but there’s no time to argue; two more Stalkers have appeared. A chainsaw-wielding motorcycle psycho named Buzzsaw chases Richards and Kotto, fatally wounding the latter before getting yanked off his bike and chainsawed up the crotch by the former. An opera-singer with lightning bolt generators on his hands named Dynamo chases McIntyre and Amber. Dynamo kills McIntyre, but not before he finds a switchbox with The Code in it. Amber memorizes The Code (whatever that is) and runs away. Richards gets Dynamo to chase him up an embankment and flip his Dynamo buggy. Though his foe is trapped, Richards refuses to kill a helpless opponent.
By this time, the viewing audience’s sympathies have shifted to Richards. (I guess they’re suckers for murderous, misogynist a—holes.) Starting to get nervous now, Killian sends in his last Stalker, the flamethrower-equipped Fireball. While Fireball stalks Richards and Amber through whatever industrial basement hellhole they’re currently in, Amber stumbles across the remains of the show’s previous winners. She realizes what every viewer has already guessed by now—the Running Man game is unwinnable. If you make it past all the Stalkers, they’ll just murder you after the show.
Fireball catches up, but before he can roast her, Richards catches up with him and pulls the fuel hoses out of his flamethrower. He drags Amber from the room and then burns Fireball alive with his own fuel. So, that thing he said earlier about not killing helpless opponents? I guess he didn’t really mean it.
Desperate to bring the show to some sort of closure, Killian brings a former Stalker called Captain Freedom (Jesse Ventura) out of retirement. Captain Freedom kills a couple of stunt doubles in a rigged match. Killian’s crew digitally alters the unfortunate doubles to look like Richards and Amber.
The real Richards and Amber somehow wander into the secret resistance base, a hideout run, of course, by Dumbledore Wannabe. Amber gives Dumbledore Wannabe The Code, which he uses to take control of the government media satellite and broadcast subversive videos. Richards leads the resistance fighters into the studio, gunning down the guards and chasing out the audience. Killian tries to talk his way out of getting killed, but Richards straps him into an explosive rocket chair and blasts him through a billboard. So, that thing he said earlier about not killing helpless opponents? I guess he really, really didn’t mean it.
Amber kills Dynamo with ceiling sprinklers and makes it back to the studio in time to smooch Richards. The subversive broadcast ends. The oppressed people of the dystopian future realize that they’re oppressed, and are implied to overthrow the corrupt government.
For a big, dumb, loud action movie from the eighties, The Running Man isn’t half bad. The broad, stupid plot is easily followable, the action never slows down, and each kill is followed by an appropriately groan-worthy post-kill pun.
But then, it isn’t half good, either. Two of the three main characters don’t speak English all that well. (The third, Richard Dawson as a sinister and weasely Killian, is a fantastic villain.) Not to mention the awful, self-defeating social satire. What’s that you say? The sleaze-and-violence-loving masses and the cynical entertainment companies that feed them are degrading our culture and, indeed, the nation as a whole? I agree, though I’m a bit puzzled as to why you felt you had too say this in an amoeba-brained film that glorifies sleaze and violence. And did I mention that Ben Richards, our supposed hero, is a murderous, misogynist a—hole? I did? Can’t be mentioned enough, really.
The doughty men of Blame Society (Matt Sloan and Aaron Yonda) take on the commentary for this film, along with their fictional creation Chad Vader. Chad only shows up intermittently, but always has something funny to say. A couple of my favorites: “These guards attended the storm trooper school of marksmanship” and, upon the appearance of Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura, “They should call this The Running-For-Office Man.” Matt and Aaron both have perfect timing all the way through. A few of my favorite quotes from those guys: (Since I’m not as familiar with Matt and Aaron’s voices, I’m not able to tell you who exactly who said what.) Re: the game show about Dobermans eating people who want money, “The Michael Vick Rope-Climbing Hour.” Re: Fireball walking through his own jet of flame, “He’s flame-retarded.” Re: a conversation between Schwarzenegger and Maria Conchita Alonzo, “Can we turn the subtitles on?” Throughout, there are many references to Dungeons and Dragons, video games (most notably Fallout 3), and other purely nerd-specific topics. They follow up every kill with at least half-a-dozen of the worst puns they can muster. Oddly, no matter how bad they try to make them, they’re always at least a hundred times funnier than the one Schwarzenegger just spouted. Can you tell I loved this commentary? I hope so, ‘cause that’s what I was going for. If you can still stand to watch Schwarzenegger (insert sarcastic political comment here), it’s worth your time.
(1987, Action/SciFi/Postapocalyptic, color)