BY LUKE WATHEN
Arnold Schwarzenegger is a name that near-every American is familiar with. Emerging in the 1980s with his roles in The Terminator and Predator, Schwarzenegger has made a name for himself as the quintessential action hero: stealing every scene with a combination of one-liners and blazing guns.
Nowhere is this truer than in the 1987 film The Running Man, a movie that was recently added to Netflix’s digital library and one that is criminally underrated. In fact, compared to Schwarzenegger’s other cinematic ventures, it is all too often overlooked entirely.
The film takes place in the distant future of 2017 where the world economy has collapsed and the United States has been reduced to a totalitarian police state, where all dissent is brutally crushed. (With the way the election is looking now, the movie may be a bit prophetic.)
The most popular television show of the era is The Running Man: a televised manhunt where convicted criminals must escape from heavily armed “stalkers,” men with flamboyant personas that are armed to the teeth. Among the hunters are Dynamo, an opera singer with a suit that shoots bolts electricity (No, I am not making this up), a chainsaw wielding sociopath named Buzzsaw and Captain Freedom, a Hulk Hogan-esque wrestler played by Jesse Ventura, who later went on to become governor of Minnesota (Again, not making this up.)
Schwarzenegger portrays Ben Richards, a former helicopter pilot who is wrongly convicted by the corrupt government. Given a choice of prison and having his friends killed or competing on The Running Man, he reluctantly chooses the latter.
As he competes in the sadistic game hosted by the popular Damon Killian (played by original Family Feud host Richard Dawson), Richards begins to unravel the secrets of the totalitarian government and his own conviction, hoping to use his knowledge to help spur a revolution.
From the outset, there does not seem to be much to enjoy about this movie. The plot seems ridiculous and predictable, the characters two-dimensional and the effects quite dated.
What is interesting, however, is how well the movie works. It’s previously mentioned weaknesses are what makes the film work so well.
The movie is the very definition of excess; the dialogue is hammy, the violence is overly gory and the soundtrack feels like it contains every synthesizer ever produced during the 80s. But that is exactly what makes the movie so entertaining, its over-the-top camp.
The best part of the movie is Richard Dawson’s portrayal of a sadistic gameshow host Damon Killian. Throughout the film, he works the audience, schmoozes woman of all ages and exudes a larger-than-life persona. Essentially, Richard Dawson plays evil Richard Dawson.
If you are in the mood for something that you can enjoy without much thought, I highly recommend The Running Man. The movie has everything that we have come to expect from a Schwarzenegger film: over-the-top action, corny dialogue and characters that are so melodramatic that you cannot help but laugh at them.
It is certainly no Citizen Kane or The Godfather, but it’s the perfect movie to enjoy with a group of friends. So kick back, have a good laugh and enjoy one of the lesser known 80s action flicks while it is still on Netflix.