Paul Michael Glaser best known to some as Starsky from the iconic 70s television series, Starsky & Hutch, slips into the director’s chair to put Arnold Schwarzenegger through his paces as Ben Richards aka The Running Man.
Based loosely on the Stephen King novel which he wrote under his Richard Bachman pseudonym, the story is a fairly dark tale that wasn’t quite as forward-thinking as the film ended up being in terms of technology and mass entertainment but definitely hit on the idea of the collapse of Western society as corporations garnered more power. The common man and his family struggle to find ways to survive, something that is highlighted in the book, his wife turns tricks, and his child needs an operation.
In the film, Richards is in law enforcement that decides not to commit an atrocity that he is ordered to and consequently finds himself on the wrong side of the law. He’s imprisoned, where he meets some resistance fighters, Laughlin (Yaphet Kotto) and Weiss (Marvin J. McIntyre), and they eventually escape.
The news feeds and entertainment shows paint Richards’ escape as near homicidal, something that Amber (Maria Conchita Alonso) learns first-hand is a lie. But it catches the attention of the star and showrunner of the most successful show on the networks, the reality program, The Running Man. Killian (Richard Dawson playing a fairly true version of himself) sees Richards as a ratings boost, so he reaches out to the entertainment division of the government after Richards is recaptured and gets him and his new friends, including Amber on the program.
The premise is the contestants have to make it through four zones alive, but they are hunted by celebrity stalkers who have the fanbases of wrestling stars, and it’s all about the kills.
Ben is determined to survive, Laughlin and Weiss want to use the opportunity to hack the broadcast system and get a message out to fight the power, and Amber just wants to get through it all.
It ends up being a big chase movie with over-the-top moments, typical 80s Schwarzenegger comedic cheesy lines, and just the bare bones of the original story stapled to it. That doesn’t mean it’s not fun. It’s an enjoyable 80s romp, it’s fun, has some goofy moments, and has a music score by Harold Faltermeyer.
It’s funny because when the story and the film were first released they were very much just works of fiction, but with the state of television these days, and the popularity of reality shows, this one seems to get closer and closer to the feel of truth. It makes me wonder what a remake would look like.
For what it is, The Running Man is a wonderful 80s throwback, and a fun way to spend a couple of hours.