Combustible Celluloid
Get the Poster
Stream it:
Own it:
Search for streaming:
NetflixHuluGoogle PlayGooglePlayCan I
With: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maria Conchita Alonso, Yaphet Kotto, Jim Brown, Jesse Ventura, Erland van Lidth, Marvin J. McIntyre, Gus Rethwisch, Professor Toru Tanaka, Mick Fleetwood, Dweezil Zappa, Richard Dawson, Karen Leigh Hopkins, Sven-Ole Thorsen, Edward Bunker
Written by: Steven E. de Souza, based on a novel by Richard Bachman (Stephen King)
Directed by: Paul Michael Glaser
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 101
Date: 18/02/2013

The Running Man (1987)

2 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Inserting Arnold Schwarzenegger into a science fiction/action story taken from a Richard Bachman (a.k.a. Stephen King) novel must have seemed like a slam-dunk in 1987, but The Running Man is too roughshod and uninspired to have generated much excitement, either then or now. Its core idea is similar to Battle Royale and The Hunger Games, but those movies had a firm grasp on the social satire involved, whereas the simplistic The Running Man is more about spectacle, violence, and the good guys winning.

The action takes place in the future, 2017, when the world economy has collapsed. The most popular program on television is a violent reality show, "The Running Man," wherein a "contestant" must survive against several fearless killers, each with his own gimmick (like a flamethrower). Oddly, the movie has so far almost perfectly predicted the future, aside from the fashions and hairstyles, which are stuck permanently in 1987.

Schwarzenegger plays Ben Richards, a helicopter pilot who is ordered to fire into a crowd of civilians stealing food. He refuses and is not only arrested, but also branded to look like a cold-blooded killer. (The video footage of the incident is edited for a different outcome.) He escapes from prison, alongside two buddies, tough guy William Laughlin (Yaphet Kotto) and computer nerd Harold Weiss (Marvin J. McIntyre).

Their getaway is noticed by the producer and host of "The Running Man," Damon Killian (a great, hammy Richard Dawson, who was the real-life host of TV game shows like "Family Feud"). Against their wills, they become the next contestants on the show, along with Amber Mendez (Maria Conchita Alonso), an innocent beauty who had the misfortune to get involved with Richards. Fortunately, Richards is a super-badass who isn't for a second intimidated by the bad guys.

Director Paul Michael Glaser, who is better known as Starsky on the TV series "Starsky & Hutch," approaches the material with a kind of gracelessness, underscoring the beats in the action so that the seams show. His idea of illustrating the "Running Man" show is to cut endlessly to crowds of extras cheering and screaming at the camera. We rarely actually see any cameras or TV monitors. There's no indication of how this show really works or what it looks like.

Likewise, Glaser relies too much on Schwarzenegger's acting ability, which, back then, was non-existent. The bodybuilder can't even manage to generate the simplest chemistry with any of the other actors. Moments of sympathy or desire just fall like lead. Sadly, this was also one of the first attempts to re-create the success Schwarzenegger's famous, early catchphrases; he's constantly dropping little groaners throughout ("he had to split") and even shamelessly recycles his most famous line ("I'll be back.").

Andrew Davis was the film's original director, and was fired, presumably for wasting time and money. In hindsight, Davis might have been a better choice; his period in the limelight was a short burst, but in that time he managed to make the best Chuck Norris movie, Code of Silence, and the best Steven Seagal movie, Under Siege, as well as The Fugitive (1993). Nothing in Glaser's filmography comes close, and certainly not The Running Man.

Olive Films has given The Running Man a fresh Blu-ray release for 2013, complete with a commentary track by director Glaser, who doesn't have very good things to say about his predecessor.

CD Universe
Movies Unlimtied