Beneath Paul Michael Glaser’s action film where Arnold Schwarzenegger takes on gimmicky athletes and ends every bout with a silly catchphrase, beats a movie that is quick as a whip and horrifyingly prophetic. Based on the Stephen King novel, “The Running Man” is simultaneously a vehicle for Schwarzenegger that also sneaks in a lot of commentary about society that would oddly enough come to completely fruiting by the mid to late aughts. “The Running Man” is based around a very popular and deadly reality show, steeped in a world where people risk their lives for cash and vacations for entertainment, and it’s all run by a mad man running a corporation. You can pretty much point that arrow to any one of the men running the world today.
Set in 2017, the world wide economy has collapsed and America is run as a totalitarian police state. As the poor go hungry, and the rich get richer, the government has censored any and all forms of art, and science and culture. Save for “The Running Man,” that is. “The Running Man” is the most popular game show in the world, where various contestants called “Runners” are pitted against deadly warriors branded “Stalkers” for cash prizes, vacation, and basic freedoms including civil rights. Ben Richards, as played Schwarzenegger is a police helicopter pilot who is set up and completely betrayed by his unit after refusing to open fire on poor people during a food riot. When he’s taken to jail, he begins joining a resistance group, and escapes to his brother’s house now oddly occupied by a woman named Amber.
After failing to escape with her to Hawaii, he’s captured, and forced to compete for his and his two friends Laughlin and Weiss’ freedom as “Runners” in The Running Man competition. Meanwhile Amber begins investigating Ben’s framing, and gets in deep. The master stroke of “The Running Man,” apart from the satire is the performance by Richard Dawkins, a once popular game show host who plays a very ghoulish depiction of Damon Killian, a madman turned media mogul. He’s someone with a non-threatening demeanor who is willing to do whatever it takes to manipulate the public, and does so with the full knowledge that they accept every bit of propaganda he hands them.
Meanwhile Ben is forced to battle the various “Stalkers” in “The Running Man” competition, at first attempting to flee and then feeding in to the blood lust of the live audience which. Much to the shock of Killian, his victory begins a small revolution that threatens the police state Killian has helped nurture. “The Running Man” is filled with fantastic action and great set pieces, as well as a dark sense of humor. The cast also bring their A game with folks like Yaphet Kotto, Maria Conchita Alonso, and Jesse Ventura working well off of Schwarzenegger. Though it’s often written off as a silly futuristic action film, “The Running Man” is a clever, smart, and prophetic dark satire that holds up a shocking reflection of where we actually stand as a society in 2017.