Monday, May 26, 2008

A Frank Review of "The Running Man"

Truth to tell, I probably haven't seen "The Running Man" in twenty years, and I expect to wait that long until my next viewing. It isn't so much that the movie's bad as I need such a broad span of time to forget Arnie's constant, loathsome puns. Beyond the disregard for human life that comes with making light of the gruesome fare this film serves up, the jokes are just obvious, "Batman and Robin" caliber duds. If you can set these pathetic attempts at Connery Bond gallows cool aside, and for me that takes decades, it remains a fine romp. Richard Bachman's (aka Stephen King's) story allows for plenty of Orwellian allusions and criticism of the media, which seem odd in a Arnold Schwarzenegger film, unless you imagine his character's battling Left Wing bias. Hard to swallow, as the flick clearly served as the template for "American Gladiators," which was about as pinko as G. Gordon Liddy.

Set in 2017, its future seems more likely as the date nears, unlike the embarrassing lack of foresight assumed by most sci-fi action spectacles. Schwarzenegger plays a military man who, after refusing to fire on a crowd during a food riot, is framed for the subsequent massacre and sent to prison. After effecting an escape with fellow political prisoners Yaphet Kotto and Caucasian Cannon Fodder, Schwarzenegger tries to leave the country with hostage Maria Conchita Alonzo. Failing that, Schwarzenegger is conned into taking part in a reality show pitting him against "Stalkers" in a bombed out ghetto, with freedom as his prize. Richard Dawson of "Family Feud" fame was so deliciously convincing as the shady host of the program, I'm amazed he was able to return to his game show duties. Schwarzenegger runs a gauntlet against the "Stalkers," who are basically sports-themed super-villains, while taking in to what degree the reality of his situation is warped for mass consumption in the editing room. What seemed far-fetched in 1987 isn't at all far removed from what the networks have been offering up for years now, which I would like to applaud as prescient but was more likely a dire inevitability.

Sadly, what is at times wicked fun becomes mired in action tropes by the final reel, as liberation comes through automatic weapons fire, Austrian muscle, and a not remotely credible command of the airwaves. Still, enough good will has been earned by this point to allow for some slack, at least so long as I've given myself enough distance to forget the few zingers left to offer.

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