Saturday, May 17, 2014

Movie Review #15: The Running Man

I'm a little behind on my scheduled weekly movies, so I've been browsing Netflix a bit to see if anything would catch my eye as a mid-week movie. Sure enough, two movies caught my interest: The Running Man starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (whose name I can almost spell correctly without looking it up, it turns out) or Grease, the musical everybody else my age has seen already.

I opted for The Running Man, since I was slightly more in the mood for a dopey action flick. And, hey, "dopey action flick" is exactly what I got!


In the distant future of 2019, the United States is a military state. They hide their worst deeds behind propaganda and a justice system that blames every tragedy on convenient scapegoats who receive no trial. The populace is kept mostly stable through violent television, most notably a show called The Running Man.

Ben Richards is a policeman who, after disobeying an order, get thrown in prison and labelled a mass murderer. After a brief escape from prison, he gets coerced into participating in The Running Man, in which he must survive running through a destroyed city and reach a specific goal in three hours, all while trained killers hunt him down.


This movie is pretty much Camp City from the very beginning. Every other word is a one-liner, the characters are one-dimensional and transparent, and if there was a theme to the movie it was handled far better 11 years prior with the movie Network.

That said, the movie is kinda fun in that campy sort of way. It doesn't take itself seriously for more than a minute.

It feels like a parody combination of Network, Demolition Man, and The Hunger Games.

Clearly someone who made the movie had seen Network at some point and agreed with its message that TV can me used to mollify people, and the fight for ratings deadens the hearts of executives, leading them to give the audience whatever they want in order to gain a bigger share.

As I said, though, this point was made more effectively in Network. Moreover, in the decade between Network and The Running Man, I imagine it would have become clear that, really, TV audiences don't want what they claim to want. They don't want to be catered to, they want to be surprised. And that realization makes me confident that the dystopian future suggested by The Running Man will simply never come to pass. Not that the movie really explored the horrors of such a society, but anyway.

It feels like the creators of Demolition Man watched The Running Man, saw its potential to really say something about the future, and made it their own way, without rehashing Network's themes: dystopian future, a cop gets framed for a crime, gets incarcerated... and then a completely different future come into play.

Did I ever mention how much I love Demolition Man?

And then The Hunger Games pretty much made an entire book series out of the Death Contest TV Show idea. The Hunger Games is slightly more subtle about its theme, which is actually more about class struggle and excess rather than TV's role in the mollification of the masses under a tyrannical government, but whatever.

In the end, The Running Man is just an opportunity to fit as many of Schwarzenegger's one-liners in one movie as they can; a role that has since been challenged by The Expendables, I think. (I'm not sure, I haven't seen The Expendables or its sequels.)

If you want to have a good time laughing at how 80s the 80s were, The Running Man might be just what you need. Alternately, if you just want some mindless action The Running Man delivers on that front as well. It was honestly more satisfying to me on that front than pretty much any CG-based action movies in the past decade or so.

Also, I enjoyed the music that played during the credits more than I was expecting to. It sounds like something The Protomen would cover.

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