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The Running Man (DVD)
Member Name: SWSt
The Running Man (DVD)
Date: 24/10/12, updated on 24/10/12 (36 review reads)
Advantages: Somehow manages to be vaguely watchable and fun against the odds
Disadvantages: Terrible acting, plotting, directing, sets... Need I go on?
The Running Man is one of those films that claims to be based on a book by Richard Bachmann (a pseudonym of Stephen King). The reality is somewhat different. Beyond the basic concept and a couple of character names, the book and the film have virtually nothing in common. The book was a dark, broody affair set in a dystopian future. The film became an action vehicle designed to show off Arnold Schwarzenegger's *ahem* unique talents.
In the near future, America is ruled with an iron fist, the masses controlled and manipulated by TV. The most popular show is The Running Man, a game show in which criminals are hunted down by "Stalkers" and killed on live TV for the delight of the audience. Falsely accused of a crime, former military commander Ben Richards must try to survive the game zone.
On one level, The Running Man is completely and utterly hopeless. It's badly acted, poorly written and contains very little discernible or sensible plot. Even what little plot exists is pretty generic sci-fi stuff (plucky, hopelessly outnumbered rebels fight against The System). It ignores and tramples on its source material and completely fails to be any kind of satire on the controlling influence of TV (a core theme of the book). Its action sequences are short, badly directed and confusing and the whole thing looks like it was made on a budget of a few hundred quid. Oh, and it is incredibly cheesy
The 18 Certificate is a bit of a puzzle, too. Despite the violent undertones of the plotline, there is relatively little violence and what there is, is surprisingly tame. Victims die cleanly and quickly (if inventively) and most of the violence is viewed from a distance rather than in full, bloody detail. The Running Man is the point where Arnie started to move away from straight action films and move towards cheesy action, which saw him throwing out one-liners that even Roger Moore's Bond would cringe at. As such, the violence is toned right down and some potentially gruesome moments (a stalker chopped in two with his own chainsaw) are reduced to another opportunity for Arnie to make a terrible, badly delivered quip.
Action sequences are really quite pathetic and there is no sense of any link between them. One Stalker finds Arnie and is despatched, then another one finds him and is killed and so on until there are no Stalkers left. There's some vague attempt to give the kills a theme of sorts (one set piece takes place on an ice rink with psychotic ice hockey player wielding a sharpened hockey stick), but it's all a bit half-hearted. Each of the Stalkers is given a gimmick which turns them from serious villains into sub-pantomime bad guys. Dressed up in ridiculous costumes with ludicrous special weapons, they fail to scare or to provide any tension.
These Arnie v Stalker confrontations should be The Running Man's saving grace, but they are badly directed. The low lighting (used to try and establish mood and hide the low budget sets) makes fight sequences confusing so that you spend half the time not really sure what is going on, beyond the fact that Arnie is having a bit of a scrap with someone. In fact, the whole film has a really inconsistent tone, as though it's had about 12 different directors and editors, each with a different idea of the direction the film should take.
Characterization and acting are exactly as you might expect: non-existent. Arnie is his usual wooden self, gurning his way through and demonstrating all the sense of timing of a suicidal hedgehog trying to cross a motorway. It's hard to believe, but in Maria Conchita Alonso, he has found a co-star who is equally wooden (although rather more good looking for those of us of the male persuasion). Neither can act and, as a result, there is zero chemistry between the pair. Their character arcs are deeply predictable (can you guess what might have happened by the end?) and not very interesting. Fair enough, you don't expect Dickens-like characters in an Arnie film, but it appears that neither actors nor writers can be bothered imbuing their creations with even the most basic elements of personality
The Stalkers - a potentially interesting bunch - are reduced to little more than futuristic WWF caricatures. They are little more than cameos (lest they upstage Arnie) so their role is generally to appear briefly, demonstrate their gimmick and then be killed by Arnie.
The one bright spot on the acting front comes from the late Richard Dawson as sleazy game show host Damon Killian. Dawson - a real life game show host from America's version of Family Fortunes - is superb, riffing on his own personality to turn Killian into a ruthless, manipulative yet deeply charismatic S.O.B. Dawson plays the sleazy charm card for all its worth and it's very easy to believe that here is a man who could hold millions of people in thrall and tell them what to think.
And yet, despite having slagged off almost every aspect of the film and spent nearly a thousand words moaning about it, I still can't bring myself to condemn The Running Man. Yes, it's a terrible film; yes it's full of bad acting, poor plotting, uneven pacing and rubbish characters... but there's also something curiously enjoyable about it. I can't put my finger on why this is the case, but somehow, against all the odds, all the bad elements combine to produce something that, if not good, is at least diverting. It's one of those guilty pleasure films that I stick on from time to time and enjoy against the odds. Perhaps it's the very fact that it's so brainless and utterly stupid that saves it? It's one of those films that you don't have to "watch" in the sense of concentrating. You can stick it on and enjoy the mindless, stupid plot without having to engage a single brain cell.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not for one minute trying to claim it's a great film or one that I watch on a regular basis (I probably watch it about once every ten years) but, in a brainless sort of way, it somehow manages to be vaguely enjoyable. Put it this way, if I had a choice between sitting through this or the similarly themed Gamer, Arnie would win hands-down every single time.
The Running Man
Director: Paul Michael Glaser
Running time: approx. 101 minutes
(c) Copyright SWSt 2012
Summary: There must be some scientific explanation to why this is not as bad as it should be.