The Running Man (1987), or Where Has THIS Kind Of Movie Gone?!?

19 06 2009

Where have the fun action movies all gone? They’ve been replaced by super-serious rugged flicks, where grim individuals spray tired platitudes about it being almost or approximately close to time to die. The color pallet is always dark, the theme is always broad, and the action tastes like a stale crouton. It’s a sad state of affairs when even the action in action movies becomes routine. Give me a goofy, unpredictable action movie any day over these modern tepid warm-up exercises. Remember in the 80s when action was big, dumb, and lumbering, but at least it was crafty and interesting enough to keep you from thinking back on other movies? Well, all I think about when I see a The Transporter or a Taken is “Hey, this movie would be much better if it had Arnold Schwarzenegger in it!!!” Well, fuck that wishful thinking! Let’s visit an era where action was just as insipid as it is today, but much more entertaining: the 80s! And at the height of this intensely stupid era, one movie towered over the others with its mis-intelligence and its mal-thinking. It was a movie with bright lights, big explosions, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and based on a Stephen King (technically Richard Bachman, but that’s apples and oranges)!!! It might be one of the better 80s action flicks ever! And kids these days haven’t even seen it before!

It’s the easiest plot in the world to follow. It’s the future; 2019. There is a game show where convicts must fight for their lives in order to be set free called “Running Man”. The convicts, or “runners”, must fight to stay alive against “stalkers”, specialists hired by the show to hunt and kill the runners. It is a smash hit, and everybody loves to watch it, although no convict has ever won the challenge. The evil and pompous host of the show, Damon Killian, makes the mistake of his life when he picks the wrong man to be stalked and killed in front of a live studio audience; an innocent one! Ben Richards, a former soldier who was wrongly blamed for the massacre of a crowd of innocents, has been selected to go in front of the nation and be sentenced to death by the highly trained, highly deadly stalkers! But none of them know just how hard a bad-ass innocent man will fight to win his freedom!

Simple futuristic action thriller, right? WRONG! It’s a mind-altering trip into a future where man has gone completely insane, and the only thing standing between the world and the brink is one hulky Austrian Superman! Or maybe it’s a simple futuristic action thriller. But what makes it good is that it’s fun! It’s a flashy 80s spectacle full of cheesy one-liners, neon lights, and exquisite deaths that make for a movie experience that is not only insane, but extremely memorable.

Schwarzenegger is Ben Richards, and he is in fine form here. He is on a winning streak a mile long as far as his career goes, and this was just one in a string of awesome brain-dead action flicks of the decade. What I like about every Schwarzenegger film, besides the fact that they almost always give him the most American names imaginable (Ben Richards!?! Is that a traditional Austrian name? It must be, because a guy with an accent that thick isn’t from New England!) is the fact that even when he’s playing a convict, he’s a hero. He’s innocent, you say? OF COURSE HE IS! He’s always the misunderstood man-against-the-world, always fighting for truth and justice, even while raping his prison cellmate twice a night (not in the movie, but a guy like Ben Richards is gonna let his demons run wild in jail; you know it, I know it, and his cellmate knows it). He can do no wrong, and it’s weird seeing such a one-dimensional hero like that, now that every single character in Hollywood has to have a deeper, more complex side to them, even if it seems tacked on. I gotta say, maybe we need some more one-dimensional characters in big dumb action movies…

My favorite part about this movie, and I’m sure it will quickly become yours, is the stalkers. They’re so self-assured, so allegedly bad-ass, and they have the clunkiest, most laborious specialties imaginable. Guys with names like Dynamo, Sub-Zero, Buzzsaw, and Fireball inhabit this goofy TV show like a life-or-death American Gladiators! They all have name-specific weapons like flamethrowers, buzzsaws, and and a killer buggy (!!!). One of them even has a jetpack (not the cool kind, the slow kind), proving once and for all that jetpacks will never be as awesome as we imagine them to be. It’s just plain fun, the kind that you wish you had more of at the movie theaters.

We might never see kooky, crazy, wacky action movies like this again in theaters, but that’ll be fine as long as people keep unearthing more and more of these hilarious and fun action flicks from yesteryear. Schwarzenegger is awesome, his co-stars Maria Conchita Alonso and Richard Dawson (!!!) are just as you’d expect them to be (not a slam, just a fact), and everything about this picture just spells a rainy Saturday afternoon with family and friends to laugh at it with. I think The Running Man is great, I don’t care what anyone says! I give it 8 name-specific weapons out of 10! So there!

Tomorrow I get even more petulent when I review my PSA, Silver Bullet! Until then!!!

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