The Running Man


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Running Man
"In many ways the tacky glamour of this film now looks all the more prescient."

Convicted of a crime he didn't commit, Arnold Schwarzenegger is forced to run the gauntlet of murderous showbiz professionals on a hit game show. It's a dystopian future where TV is the opium of the people, there's a desperate rebel underground and a plucky love interest, skintight lycra and big hair, chainsaws and explosions, and more second-rate Arnie one-liners than in all his other films put together. It's the quintessential Eighties science fiction B-movie. With that in mind, you'll either find it shoddy beyond repair or highly entertaining.

Although some of its special effects have aged badly, in many ways the tacky glamour of this film now looks all the more prescient. It's a curious artefact of a pre-Big Brother, pre-X-Factor age, notable now for how closely popular television has come to resemble it. At its heart is gleefully smarmy host Killian (Richard Dawson, slipping with ease between onscreen persona and backstage roughness). He's a formulaic bad guy but he's also a believable industry climber, having clawed his way up because he understands the nature of television better than anyone on his team.

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Then there are the sub-bosses, or 'stalkers' who pursue our hero. There's Subzero, 'Chinese ninja warrior'; macho biker Buzzsaw; opera-singing, lightning bolt firing Dynamo; flame-throwing Fireball and Jesse Ventura's old fashioned tough guy Captain Freedom. None is quite as exciting as he ought to be but their rubbishness makes them believable as TV heroes of this type and it makes sense that they would have fan clubs. Their gimmicks provide a rich source of material for the usual Arnie movie humour, and this film isn't pretending to be about anything else. It does have some nice bits of design however, with wittily inventive costumes and sets, and a good deal of energy to sustain it through the plot clich├ęs.

Harking back to a less cynical age when people could really believe that shutting down the network for a while would make room for revolution, The Running Man may be crudely put together but it has both charm and spirit. Arnie hams up his Austrian accent in a play for audience sympathy but there are still plenty of punch-ups. Worth a re-run.

Reviewed on: 17 Mar 2012
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The Running Man packshot
Convicted of a crime he didn't commit, a police officer is forced to run for his life on a popular television game show.
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Director: Paul Michael Glaser

Writer: Steven E. de Souza, based on the book by Stephen King.

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maria Conchita Alonso, Yaphet Kotto, Richard Dawson, Professor Toru Tanaka, Erland van Lidth, Jim Brown, Jesse Ventura, Gus Rethwisch

Year: 1987

Runtime: 101 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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