The Running Man

Sunday, July 11, 2010

If you were a child of the 80s, there's a good chance that at school you were lent a copy of The Running Man. And there's also a pretty good chance that you thought it was the dog's bollocks. But now that the decade of excess homoeroticism has been left behind, and now that easily pleased children have grown up, it's clear that The Running Man is pretty, well, crap.

The Running Man's most obvious shortcoming is its production values. Runners run around in quilted suits that resemble mattresses, glass lollipops serve as the ominous warning beacons that mark the point of no return for prisoners who don't want to have their heads blown off, Dynamo drives about in a car that appears to be made of Lego, fascist soldiers capture criminals with the terror that is a small red net, the wasteland that is the game quadrant appears to repeat itself Hanna-Barbera style and the opening crawl looks like it was typed on a BBC Micro. It's a cheap, cheap film.

However, despite the fact that it's cheap, despite the fact that it looks like sludge was smeared over the lenses, despite the fact that it was filmed by Detective Dave Starsky and despite the fact that the film repeats the words 'uplink', 'relay', 'network', 'interface', 'satellite' and 'resistance' so many times that I want to remove them from the dictionary Newspeak-style, there's still plenty to enjoy. The film's the epitome of a guilty pleasure.

What you most expect from an 80s Arnie film is homoeroticism, and in that regard the film certainly delivers. The first shot of Arnie (post Bakersfield massacre) is of him carrying a massive steel girder on his shoulder (it's a repeat of the shot in Commando where you're introduced to Schwarzenegger with the visual of him carrying a huge log). Sure he's probably got a micropenis, but let us buy into the fantasy - this man is hung like a shire horse and you viewer are nothing but a pathetic girly man who would wither and die when faced with the awesomeness of the Austrian Oak. And just to prove how virile Arnie is, no sooner has the film started than he's grabbing men by their privates and smoking unfeasibly large cigars.

All of this is certainly very stimulating for Killian, the Bobby Heenan-style game show presenter who hosts The Running Man. When he first sees Arnie, running in dreamy slow-motion with muscles-a-bulging, he says, "Hello gorgeous." And in the course of this scene he also says, "Isn't he beautiful?" and shouts, "I want him!" I bet he's got a steel girder in his pants. But when he first meets Arnie face to face he coos, "Hi, cutie pie." I think I'm getting a steel girder too.

But as log-friendly as this banter is, it's amateur league punk stuff when you compare it to the Captain Freedom workout. Jesse Ventura appears on the screen, shouting, "Are you ready for pain? Are you ready for suffering? If the answer is yes, then you're ready for Captain Freedom's workout." Sure there are some women in the background that you're supposed to be gently ogling, but they're clearly just window dressing. Jesse is the main course and his is the body that the camera lingers on. Hell, the scene might as well have have flashing lights and sirens, 'Butt sex is a painful but glorious workout!'

Another great detail is Arnie's disguise when he's on the run from the law. He walks around with a thick beard, a gym t-shirt (which is ripped to show as much of his neck and biceps as possible) and a yellow builder's hat. Maybe he ransacked the local YMCA.

But the film also delivers in terms of amusing deaths. Of course, the most obvious are the stalker deaths. You've got Fireball exploding, Sub-Zero wearing a barbed wire necktie, Dynamo being electrocuted (mid-rape) in his saggy kecks, and, best of all, Buzzsaw getting castrated – I love his falsetto scream. But you've also got a prisoner having his head blown off (while his body keeps running), and, my personal favourite, Killian going through a sign in that toboggan thing. But what makes the Killian death my favourite is the way the sign explodes when Killian goes through it. It's totally unnecessary but that's what makes it great.

Just as unnecessary are Arnie's atrocious puns. But their awfulness is what makes them so brilliant. "He had to split." "What a hot head." "Yeah, he was a pain in the neck." Even Roger Moore would be proud. But Arnie's best piece of dialogue is considerably more subtle. After Yaphet Kotto dies, and after he's made an offer by Killian to become a stalker, Arnie grabs a camera and yells, "I live to see you eat that contract, but I hope you leave enough room for my fist because I'm going to ram it into your stomach and break your goddamn spine!" Poetry.

Not quite as poetic, though, is the final shoot-out. Basically Arnie and a bunch of soldiers who look like members of Culture Club invade the studio and reveal the truth regarding this fascistic society. It's a dull action scene (although I like the way that Arnie, like Charles Bronson, can avoid bullets simply by ducking). Plus Arnie, for some reason, spares the bloodthirsty mob. Surely I can't be the only one that was hoping he'd open fire on the crowd – especially on that old granny – and establish a Ben Richards dictatorship? But no, in a typically un-Republican way, Arnie wants freedom. And he also gets the girl and walks off with her to the sound of some abysmal 80s power ballad. Personally, I think it would have been more convincing if he'd walked off arm-in-arm with Killian's bodyguard, Sven.

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  1. Damn you, Roma. I had resisted the urge to see this movie again but now I think I will have to. Tom

  2. Choreography: Paula Abdul

  3. I recently viewed this movie twice in less than a day; once at night and once in the morning. It just goes to show how easy it is to watch. The movie has a great fun.