Monday, March 5, 2007

Schwarzenegger Sunday - The Running Man

For an overview of Schwarzenegger Sunday, check out the Marching Orders above. Note – there will always be spoilers.

We find ourselves in the far-off year of 2017. America is manipulated by a government that rules with an iron fist, controlling the populous, the media and all other aspects of daily life. Schwarzenegger plays Ben Richards, a former police officer who was wrongly imprisoned and apparently forced to grow an awful beard after the Bakersfield Massacre. After helping orchestrate a jailbreak, he happens upon the apartment of Amber Mendez, kidnaps her, and attempts to flee to Hawaii. However, he is caught at the airport and then forced to appear on The Running Man, the world’s most popular TV show, hosted by Damon Killian. “Runners” are pursued by “Stalkers” who dole out justice by chasing down the Runners and killing them. Richards and his two accomplices are able to fend off the early Stalkers, but both minor characters are eliminated soon thereafter. In the meantime, Amber has gotten into trouble by pulling the true footage of the Bakersfield incident, so she is then forced to join the Runners. Richards and Amber manage to find the resistance base within the game zone and override the government controlled satellite feed. They lead a team that storms the TV studio and takes over the show just in time. Killian is sent hurtling to his death and Richards and Amber have a rather forced makeout session.

Quality of “Ahnold” lines: More than any other Arnold movie, the quality here really depends on the viewer. There are a slew of truly horrendous lines, but there are enough good ones included that I’m willing to take the good with the bad. They include:
“I’m going to throw up all over you.” “Good, it won’t show on this shirt.”
“Don’t forget to send me a copy” (as he stabs his court-appointed “agent” with a pen)
“Hey light-head! He Christmas tree!”
“Hello cutie-pie. One of us is in deep trouble.”
“Well that hit the spot!” 6

Plethora of “Ahnold” lines: As stated above, the cheeky lines abound in this one. Arnold also gives a lot of philosophical speeches about all kinds of things, and it comes off as pure comedy. Some of the lesser ones:
“Here lies Subzero. Now, plain zero!”
“Yeah, he was a real pain in the neck!”
“What happened to Buzzsaw?” “Oh, he had to split.”
“How about a light?”
“What a hothead.”
“You bastard! Drop dead!” “I don’t do requests.” 9

“I’ll be back.”: Just as he is about to be shot out into the game zone, Richards calls Killian over and tells him “I’ll be back.” Killian retorts, “Only in a rerun.” 9
Smarmy Villain: Richard Dawson of Family Feud fame plays Killian, and completely steals the show. Without his contribution, this movie would fall flat on its face. He is as smarmy as can be, flippantly letting random actors die and constantly making sure the show must go on. At one point, he says of the District Attorney, “Just give them an evasive answer. Tell them to go fuck themselves.” He comes at this role as part game-show host, part evangelist, part snake-oil salesman, but arrogant and totally in control. Whether it’s exhorting cheers from the audience, motivating the Stalkers or generally keeping things moving, he never loses sight of the bottom line – keeping those ratings up. 9
Rough and Tumble Henchman: This movie is loaded with ‘em. We see badass Stalkers in the following order. Subzero, a gigantic Japanese hockey player with a goalie stick that can cut through a gong. Buzzsaw, a roid-raging, motorcycle-riding chainsaw wielder who constantly looks as if he will pop a vein in his neck at any moment. I mean, look at this guy! Dynamo, a chubby, blonde opera singer whose armor appears to be made out of a Lite-Brite, but somehow allows him to shoot lighting out of his fingertips. He drives quite possibly the dumbest vehicle in history. Fireball, played by Jim Brown sporting a Bride of Frankenstein hairdo. He flys around on a jetpack and attacks runners with a flame-thrower. Finally, Captain Freedom who is played by Jessie The Body Ventura, but he never actually tussles with Richards. Any one of these characters is somewhat fearsome. Well, OK, not dynamo. I really can’t believe that’s the best they could come up with… 9

Diminutive Sidekick: Richards is rarely onscreen with his two accomplices, Weiss and Loughlin. Plus, they didn’t appear to be all that short. n/a

Rejected hot love interest: The best we can do here is the Running Man dancers. When Richards appears on stage, they dance around him, taunting him in a somewhat flirty manner. This hardly qualifies, although it is notable that Paula Abdul was credited as the choreographer. n/a

Not nearly hot enough love interest: When I was younger, I found Maria Conchita Alonso to be somewhat unattractive. It could have been the horrible outfits or maybe the fact that she chooses to work out in lingerie. Either way, she’s clearly very good-looking, if a bit screechy. Richards could do a hell of a lot worse. 2

Arnold yelling: Surprisingly, there’s really no scene where he lets out a normal howl. However, he takes it up a notch when he tells Killian: “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!” 5

Arnold cursing: Arnold curses a fair amount, but never in a way that carries any significance. However, audience member Agnes McCardell has a fantastic one when she says, “I think the next kill, will be made by… Ben Richards. I can pick anyone I choose, and I choose Ben Richards. That boy's one mean motherfucker.” This line changes everything, as people begin laying bets on Richards and rooting for him. 7
Arnold crazyface: There are crazyfaces galore here. None are an all-time winner, but I give you several to choose from: 8
Superfluous Explosions: There are several moments in the movie with explosions. About half of them are totally superfluous. The footage of the Bakersfield massacre is particularly over the top. I have no idea how a helicopter could make this happen, but apparently in the year 2017, we will have that technology at our disposal: 8
Director: Paul Michael Glaser is best known for playing Detective Dave Starsky on the 1970s police show, Starsky and Hutch. Most of his direction credits are for either television or sports movies. He never worked with Arnold again.

Franco Columbu: You know, I can’t even tell if this is really Franco or not, but he’s in the credits as 911 Security Officer #2. If he’s in the first scene, responding to the riot, he has to be the middle of the three men pictured here. I think. 5While we’re at it, it should be noted that Mick Fleetwood and Dweezil Zappa have somewhat major roles in this film. I have to think that favors must have been owed. Or perhaps they just wanted all those Dweezil fans to show up for the box office. Also, are we sure that this is not Jim Harbaugh?
Sven Ole-Thorsen: Not only is Sven all over this movie, and not only is his character named Sven, he gets a line! This has to be his career role, besting his performance as Olaf in Overboard. However, for years I had no idea what his actual line is. Something about steroids. My best guess is, “I go to zcore zum steroids.” 10

Shirtless Arnold: Surprisingly, Arnold is never shirtless in this movie. I know, it’s crazy. You’d think being imprisoned several times, it would have happened. He does wear tank tops a few times, but clearly he did not have much creative control on this one. n/a

Severely brutal killing of rough and tumble henchman: Each Stalker’s death gets progressively less brutal. Subzero is strangled to death by a barbed wire fence. Buzzsaw has his chainsaw enter him in the most sensitive of areas. But then Fireball is merely blown up (sir). Finally, Dynamo is killed by a sprinkler system. 7

Even more severely brutal killing of villain: Speaking of superfluous explosions, I will forever be baffled by the ending. Instead of killing him directly, Richards sends Killian through the zoomy tunnel thing, but somehow the nets designed to stop the sled are not up. It skitters across the ground before inexplicably going airborne, flying through a Cadre Cola sign and then blowing up. In 2017, do we keep C4 behind billboards as a precautionary measure or something? Also, it is at least peculiar that everyone watching is so excited to see Killian die. Mere minutes before the satellite takeover, he was everyone's favorite celebrity. One guy watching even says, "Yeah Damon!" So the guy was cheering for him - as he exploded. In any event, this is hardly the brutality we have come to expect. 2

Plausibly implausible plot: I’m not sure where to begin here. Clearly we are going to make some leaps of faith when we tune in to a movie about a TV game show where criminals are hunted for sport. So we have to accept a lot going in. But if we are going to wonder about the plot, I have many questions. When breaking out of prison, why didn’t they just go around the area with the decapitation devices? Amber moved into her apartment and it still had the same security code from when Richards’ brother lived there? Wouldn’t Amber also share the uplink code with Richards in case she is killed along the way but he is not? Dweezil Zappa is in a movie? But on the whole, it’s an exercise in farfetched fun, and we buy it all, mainly because we want to. I suppose when things are set that far off in the future, you are willing to accept a lot of changes in our way of life. 7

Ambiguous ending: It certainly seems like all is wrapped up at the end. Richards and Amber kiss on live television, Killian is dead and Sven went to score some steroids. But wouldn’t the government have a response to all of this? Was freedom restored through the magic of live television? Sadly, they never made a sequel, so we don’t know. We must take it on faith that Richards went on to be some kind of popular figure. Maybe even Governor of California or something. 7

While it’s on TV all the time, I hadn’t really sat down to actively watch this movie in quite a while. It is horribly dated, and much of it is so improbable it comes across as hacky. It’s still enjoyable, but mainly because of all the dumb lines and that Sven is in half the scenes. If Schwarzenegger was not in this movie, there's a very good chance that no one ever would have seen it.

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