Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Now that I’m back to living in a house with a TV licence, I return to my series of articles entitled “What I watched on Channel 4 the other night”.

Have you ever watched The Hunger Games and thought “this needs to be a lot more ‘80s?” If so, The Running Man might be the film for you. 

Set in the dystopian future world of 2019, this sci-fi actioner follows Ben Richards, a former cop convicted of a massacre he actually refused to participate in. Richards escapes from prison, kidnaps a woman (I’m not sure why), soon gets arrested again, and is forced to participate in the eponymous TV show, in which he and his buddies must put on tight yellow lycra and battle a series of themed gladiators.

Based on a Stephen King novel, it’s a cracking central concept, and one that’s become more and more socially relevant since the film was released. Hey, by 2019, we could all be watching The Running Man every Saturday, albeit with better title graphics and presented by Ant and Dec. It’s also got a good protagonist in the ex-con out to vindicate himself of the crimes he never committed, and potential for a load of brilliantly ridiculous action. What could go wrong?

Well, they could write a bunch of reasonably terrible quips, and then get Arnold Schwarzenegger to make them absolutely terrible. Arnie’s career is one of those weird quirks of cinema history for people to look back on and think "how the hell did that happen?". He was hired for The Terminator to play an emotionless, indestructible killing machine, emphasis on the emotionless, simply because he was enormous and macho. And when people loved him in that, he was given a bigger role in T2. All of a sudden, he’s a massive action star. The thing is, he played all his characters as the same emotionless, indestructible killing machine, and any character who isn’t meant to be a robot does need some range of emotion, even in the silliest of action movies.

It doesn’t help that the script is a mess. The cringe-inducing "Plain Zero" line isn't the worst of the quips by far, and another is directly stolen from The Terminator. Plus, the plot has so many nonsense contrivances. The woman he pointlessly takes hostage just happens to work for the network that broadcast The Running Man, and yes, of course she falls in love with him. The uplink the contestants need to hack into in order to take over the network’s broadcasting just happens to be in the middle of the set, unguarded. Hmm.

Nevertheless, there are a few great moments of satirical comedy, including a look at other programmes on the same network. I laughed more than I probably should have at Climbing for Dollars, in which a man must climb a rope to escape ravenous angry dogs. That should have been the sequel.

And, of course, the action scenes are pretty awesome, in that camp ‘80s way. There’s a guy dressed as a Roman soldier who sings opera and fires electricity from his hands. Going up against guys like that is what Arnie is good at.

Returning to that opening comparison, I can’t honestly recommend this over The Hunger Games, which takes a similar concept and populates it with interesting, complex characters. When the crowds do end up supporting Richards, it’s not because he represents hope or the chance of uprising, but because, as one elderly lady puts it, he’s “one mean motherfucker”. But isn’t that what you want from an Arnie film?


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