The Running Man is from a time when Arnold Schwarzenegger could draw in a crowd ranging in age from 13 to 60 to see his movies. The late 1980’s were very good for the five time Mr. Olympia and eventual governor of California. Based on Stephen King’s (writing as Richard Bachman) The Running Man this movie qualifies as a solid fun movie if you don’t take it all too seriously.
The year is 2017 and the world – or at least the U.S.A. – is falling apart. Ben Richards (Schwarzenegger) finds himself piloting a security patrol that is ordered to fire on unarmed civilians. Richards refuses the order and ends up in prison after the official tape of the eventual slaughter of civilians shows Ben Richards as the man responsible: The Butcher of Bakersfield. If that were the end of the story it wouldn’t be called The Running Man. Richards escapes from prison with the help of William Laughlin (Yaphet Kotto) and Harold Weiss (Marvin J. McIntyre). Eventually all three men are recaptured only this time they have the opportunity to free themselves if they play a popular television game show called Running Man.
The premise of the Running Man game show is simple: Convicted criminals must make it through a four hundred block section of L.A. which is divided up into quadrants each protected by a stalker whose job it is to kill the convicts. If the runners make it through they win their freedom. The plot would not be complete without freedom fighters who eventually win over the heart and mind of Ben Richards to their cause.
Performances in The Running Man are surprisingly good due in part to good casting in the face of a substandard script. Kotto, McIntyre, Alonso and the magnificently smarmy and deceitful Richard Dawson as Damon Killian provide a supporting cast that carries the script as far as it can be carried. Director Paul Michael Glaser is to be credited with sewing together a collection of disjointed scenes and ludicrous special effects into a movie which is both entertaining and memorable.
The Running Man is primarily a movie for Arnold Schwarzenegger fans but mainstream SF fans won’t be disappointed with it.
Note: The Running Man Dancers surrounding Damon Killian on his show were choreographed by Paula Abdul.