THE RUNNING MAN seems remarkably prescient. When it was made in 1987, the glut of reality television shows that we now have hadn't even begun. The United States in the year 2019 is controlled by a police state which keeps the masses entertained with a nightly broadcast of The Running Man, a game show in which convicted (or simply accused) felons are given the chance to literally run for their lives while being pursued by "Stalkers", a group of wrestling stars tricked out like comic book super villains.
Hosted by the uber-smarmy Richard Dawson (essentially playing himself), the show is a ratings bonanza (it's the only thing on any channel, which helps the numbers) and Dawson is looking to up the stakes and get even higher ratings. He does so by having Ben Richards (Arnold), a former cop wrongfully sent to prison, a chance to play the game along with two of his fellow convicts (who are also innocent). The game is, of course, rigged, but no one counted on Schwarzenegger playing it by his rules.
THE RUNNING MAN is based on a novel by Richard Bachman, who was in reality, bestselling author Stephen King. King penned four "Bachman books": RAGE (1977), THE LONG WALK (1979), ROADWORK (1981) and THE RUNNING MAN (1982) before pulling back the curtain to reveal Bachman's true identity. And as always, this is a case of the book being better than the movie.
THE RUNNING MAN follows in the footsteps of other sf/action films such as DEATH RACE 2000 (1975) and ROLLERBALL (1975) that used to-the-death sports/games as the basis for the story but here the material, directed by Paul Michael Glaser, is extraordinarily routine. At times, it looks like a made-for-television movie. It appears that the '80s will make a fashion comeback in the year 2019 as there are lots of vintage hair and clothing styles trying to pass for "futuristic." Pro football Hall-of-Famer Jim Brown plays Fireball, one of the Stalkers and he looks embarrassed in every scene he appears in. Also on hand is one Captain Freedom, played by Jesse Ventura. Here we have two future governors of two states (California and Minnesota), squaring off in a death-match in a wrestling ring. Arnold delivers the standard quips and one-liners including the trademark "I'll be back."
The film isn't smart enough or wickedly clever enough to work as a satire or black comedy. Instead it plods along, a routine action movie phoned in by everyone both in front of and behind the camera.
Trivia: Schwarzenegger's character, Ben Richards, was the name of the title character in THE IMMORTAL, a science fiction television series that ran on ABC from September 1970 to January 1971. In the series, Richards (Christopher George) was also on the run from an evil organization that wanted him for, literally, his blood (it contained genetic material that could prolong life indefinitely).
Final verdict on THE RUNNING MAN? Change channels.