A film which, to be fair, at least jogs through the motions…
by Adam Miller
Watching THE RUNNING MAN is like watching a director's vision of Adorno's culture industry on steroids. Lots of steroids. AH-Nold once again keeps his promise of being back, this time as an ex-police officer named Ben Richards framed for the massacre of 60 innocent women and children during a food riot. The time is the future and the world, no surprise, has gone to hell. The people are unhappy. The hegemony is in full swing. And the television show called "The Running Man" is the only thing which sutures the disparity between the haves and have-nots. It doesn't take long for Richards to become the featured contestant on said show, and the rest of the film is about him evading the goons sent to hunt him down.
Ben Richards is obviously pitted as the hero running from (and eventually fighting back against) the literally lethal culture industry and its army of muscle men killers. Of course, this conceit is somewhat dubious considering Schwarzenegger's own film resume as a… well, … muscle-man killer. Late in the film, the television fans switch their allegiance from the show's prescribed "stalkers" and instead start rooting for Richards— not to escape, mind you, but to make the next kill. The pelbians of the film are rendered beyond salvation, in other words, and we can only care about Richards' ultimate survival. Thus fascist totalitarian can only be transcended (can one even say defeated?) by the very model man of European fascist totalitarian regimes.
This lack of ideological imagination doesn't prevent one from enjoying Schwarzenegger's performance nor the pacing of the film as a whole. One would be hard pressed to say a film called THE RUNNING MAN is "slow." Plus the usual Arnie puns are intact, the threat to life— though highly cartoonish— is nevertheless real and the odds against Richards are suitably formidable.
That said, TOTAL RECALL stands as the far superior of these two similar Arnold films, and for philosophical mulling DEATH RACE 2000 is (slightly) more interesting thanks to the fact that it's hero (David Carradine) methodically subverts the evil system from within rather than Schwarzenegger who tackles his enemies willy-nilly. So enjoy the spectacle, the heavy blue and red lighting, and huge men filling out spandex body suits. In short, enjoy THE RUNNING MAN.