Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, María Conchita Alonso, Yaphet Kotto
Director: Paul Michael Glaser
Running Time: 101 mins
The Running Man is an American film about a dystopian future where the US government keeps control of its population in the aftermath of a global economic collapse through the broadcast of a brutal game show, which challenges criminals to escape a team of professional killers.
Following a trend of dystopian futures dominated by out-of-control corporate organisations, The Running Man is yet another film with a riveting and thought-provoking premise, bringing sci-fi action into a more serious sphere with its assessment of modern society and a descent towards total inhumanity at the hands of unaccountable enterprises.
Unfortunately, for all its promise and potential there, The Running Man really fails to capitalise, ultimately ending up as a frustratingly repetitive and fairly bland affair, with too much focus on its bizarre action and bloodsports to give time for a real, provocative assessment of the development of modern society.
Now, the first thing that will jump out at you is that The Running Man’s premise isn’t something entirely new. Films like Blade Runner, The Terminator, RoboCop and more all came before it with very similar ideas – albeit executed in different settings and often with different cinematic styles. Blade Runner, for example, is more of a biblical fable than anything, while The Terminator brings more mainstream action into the equation, and RoboCop is an extremely dark critique of both rampant corporatism and hard justice in the United States.
And that’s why all those films have stood the test of time so well, with riveting dystopian intrigue on top of a unique style that’s both entertaining and thought-provoking. The Running Man, on the other hand, has next to none of that, and despite starting off with a very similar premise, fails to do anything with it to turn the film into an equally memorable watch.
As a result, not only does it prove a rather dull affair throughout, but all of its attempts to work as a pointed, provocative social critique come off as blatant and lazily written. You’ve got the frankly ridiculous backstory of Schwarzenegger’s character having been entirely framed for the murder of hundreds of unarmed civilians – set up in a preposterous and frantic opening scene – while there’s also the painfully generic and predictable gameshow of death, hosted by ‘Killian’ no less, to launch an attack on the role of the media and commercialism in changing the general public.
So despite its promising themes and premise, The Running Man really fails to deliver on topics that have been far better covered in a number of other, similar movies, making it feel like a real disappointment right from the off.
However, while it doesn’t quite hit the mark with its main objective of a dark, serious social critique, there’s still some good action and sci-fi fare to entertain, right?
Well, while there are elements of The Running Man that do prove interesting – its core bloodsport feels a very clear inspiration for the far better Hunger Games trilogy – the majority of its action and sci-fi is painfully bland, forming a part of a repetitive and unavoidably tedious story throughout.
Simply put, the film – after that quick opening scene to set up Schwarzenegger’s framing – doesn’t really get going until 40 or so minutes in, with a long-winded and dragging introduction to the gameshow at the centre of the story, only eventually kicking into action after a long while when Schwarzenegger and his colleagues are sent down to try and escape with their lives.
The problem is that the following hour of action is all exactly the same. The four ‘criminals’ are down there and have to make their way through a strange arena, finding themselves up against a series of professional killers that they have to defeat in order to keep going and stay alive. In that, the movie plays out like a generic video game, with next to no other character or even thematic intrigue through the latter half of the film at all.
As a result, I really struggled to like The Running Man. Yes, its premise is interesting, and it has some engaging elements throughout, but it’s a generally dull affair that both fails to make its core themes as thought-provoking or interesting as it intends, as well as missing the mark when it comes to the blockbuster side of things, with repetitive and predictable action and sci-fi fare throughout, which is why I’m giving it a 6.6 overall.