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Review: THE RUNNING MAN (1987)

by Meredith Grau
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Best Bad Quote:
“…There’s nothing funny about a dickless moron with a battery up his ass.”
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Oh, the glory… The Running Man fails to even compare in many ways to other Schwarzenegger epics, but it remains one of my favorites. Who is this Arnold guy, anyway? His barely decipherable English filtered through a thick Austrian accent only enhanced his immediate mythology, not to mention his intimidating muscles. An asexual creature with meaty hands and total incomprehension masked by a stoicism so thick that it was comic, he was truly somethin’ else. You have to hand it to the guy. He’s had a Hell of a career, and it is exactly his otherworldly, unusual-ness that allowed him to perform so ably opposite alien predators, tripple-breasted mutants, and most terrifying of all, kindergartners. Buoyed by savvy career choices and some of the greatest writing, directing, and production in action movie history, Arnold was the King. Why he stepped down to become a mere governor, gawd only knows. But this only proves his power. We– well some of us– believed him capable of even that role.
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The Running Man is, in my opinion, the best of the worst in the Arnold lexicon. It is futuristic tongue-in-cheek laid on super-duper thick with the grandiose, scenery chewingbicep curling self-mockery and physical comedy/violence that ’80s movies did so gosh-darned well, (and which current action films fail to accomplish, but never mind). The one liners in this movie… You can literally feast upon them! It’s like gorging on Halloween candy without getting sick: “Here’s Subzero! Now PLAIN zero.” Zap! “[Buzzsaw] had to split.” Ooh, daaaaamn. “I’m not into politics…” Hm, well, I guess the joke was REALLY on us that time, eh Arnie ol’ buddy?
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Thrown into the mix with these lyrical pratfalls is a satirical morality tale about society’s desensitization and psychological manipulation via the merciless media machine. Network, it is not, but the movie was still way ahead of its time. One can’t help but shake his head in knowing shame at the film’s “Climbing for Dollars” commercial.
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The plot takes place in the future times, and it is not pretty. Like most films of the era that projected what was to become of us, (Escape from New York, Blade Runner, Robocop), this totalitarian world is not at all streamlined but gritty, dirty, gaudy, and debilitating. The camera’s eye when gazing into tomorrow is obscured by its anticipation of environmental and social pollution. America has become a corporate wasteland– a premonition of the Reaganomics downfall. Kinda feels like cinema verite… (Sniff). Ben Richards (Arnie) has been imprisoned for failing to obey governmental orders that he shoot up a bunch of innocent pedestrians. He and a couple comrades briefly escape incarceration, only to be caught, again detained and unceremoniously volunteered as contestants on “The Running Man”– a popular television show that revisits the days of the Circus Maximus by sending men to their deaths and broadcasting it for entertainment. (Don’t get pompous. You watched Snookie get punched in the face on loop, so you too are scum).
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Anywho, Richards and his pals, including the woman who turned him into authorities, Amber Mendez (Maria Conchita Alonzo), are pitted against some of the most superbly idiotic villains of all time– a fat hockey eskimo (Subzero), a flat-topped motorcyclist with a chainsaw (Buzzsaw), a flying fire thrower (Fireball) and, my favorite, an obese, electrical opera singer in his underpants (Dynamo).
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The main villain is, of course, the host of the show, David Killian, played by notorious spy (?) and actual host of “Family Feud,” Richard Dawson. Killian uses contemporary technology to fabricate stories about the show’s contestants, perpetuating Richards’ false label as the “Butcher of Bakersfield” and even staining Amber’s reputation by telling audiences that “she had sexual relations with three, sometimes even four men within a single year!” The question I have is, how were all these hidden cameras able to catch multiple angles of every human being’s every waking moment, thus making them available for incriminating editing practices? (NSA in the USA. Damn them)!
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At first, even the sweetest looking old ladies froth at the mouth with blood lust as Richards is thrown into the lions’ den, (PS- there should be a roller coaster based on this movie), but the tables start to turn on Killian when the beefy, unlikely hero starts killing all of the show’s star “Stalkers” and consequently turning the audience against the host and his greedy ratings hound dogs. There are two things you don’t do to Americans: raise their taxes or lie to them! Vengeance is ours! In the end, it is Killian who must “pay up,” ’cause Richards is gonna take Him DOWN!
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With a slew of unexpected appearances by Jesse “Wow That Spandex is Tight” Ventura, Dweezil “Dude, Your name is Dweezil” Zappa, and Mick… Fleetwood, not to mention some Paula Abdul choreographed dance sequences with big-haired, highly flammable, belly-buttoned babes, this film will leave you breathless and aching all over. But it’s not from a gut punch. It is from laughing, cheering, and hurling violently in joy. Stephen King probably hated it, but he wouldn’t know a good movie if it Red Rummed him in the face. Good thing Arnold would never punch a man with glasses.
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Rating: 
5 out of 5 Lite Brite Bitches Peeing Their Britches
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